How The Instagram Algorithm Works in 2021

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Before we start exploring the mysterious Instagram algorithm, let’s first understand what an algorithm actually is. It’s basically a set of instructions or commands created to perform a task or solve a problem.

Algorithms sound highly complex and only understandable by a computer genius, far from it. You’ll have followed an algorithm probably several thousands of times without even realizing it. The easiest way to describe one is in the form of a recipe. It’s a list of finite instructions you’ll follow in order to perform a task effectively.

A recipe is a step-by-step process that occurs in a particular order that enables you to cook a tasty dish to perfection.

 

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How does the Instagram Algorithm Work?

Instagram wants to rank your posts in the order that you most care about them; posts from your friends, family, colleagues, animals, and the other accounts that you follow.

Very cleverly, Instagram has created an algorithm that assesses your searches and interactions and shows you what you want to see without appreciating the fact.

Historically, Instagram has had a reverse-chronological feed, which meant that the posts would be visible in the order that you posted them. It’s since moved away from this format and shows you intelligently what you really want to see.

While using the chronological feed, Instagram deemed that users were spending less and less time on the app. Users thought that they were missing too much content posted by their friends. In 2016, they introduced the new algorithm and relevance sorting.

Usage has increased over time, and users see much more of their preferred content in a format that they want to see it.

Instagram has ranked post relevancy into the following order:

  •   Interest
  •   Recency
  •   Relationship
  •   Frequency
  •   Following
  •   Usage

Let’s explore each of them in detail to better understand how they work. 

#1 Interest

Interest is all based on past behavior and how much Instagram considers you will care about a particular subject. A post that contains content that matters to you will be placed in a higher-ranking order. This is based on similar content and machine analysis of the substance of the post.

Various accounts make up the feed that you follow and interact with. Your feed is based upon the types of posts and accounts that you have intentionally interacted with in the past.

The more that the Instagram algorithm thinks you will like and appreciate a particular style or subject of the post, the higher it will appear in your feed.

Your feed is an amalgamation of your Instagram behaviors.

Regularly visiting Instagram allows their algorithm to precisely understand your actions in more detail. Allowing them to determine which accounts you are more likely to interact with and the type of posts you search for, comment on, share, and like.

The same applies when you post content; your account will come up in your follower’s feeds based on their preferences and historical data.

Take advantage of one of the many Instagram scheduling tools that can allow you to post at specific times to ensure that you get the most views and interactions possible.

The Instagram algorithm automatically prioritizes content that receives the most engagement. Photograph popularity is based on likes, comments, and reposts, while a video is based on views. This should help you plan your captions and content.

#2 Recency

Priority lies on the most recent posts shared rather than the older ones.

The Instagram algorithm pays attention to how much engagement each of your posts receives. It also considers how long ago you posted the photograph because it always wants to share the most exciting, relevant, and up-to-date posts with you.

When you understand the best time to post on Instagram, you can cleverly hack the algorithm and gain more likes and followers, which will, in turn, increase your reach. If you post at the right time and when all of your followers are online, this gives you more opportunities to engage with them and increase your likes.

There are many tools on the market, like Later’s ‘best time to post’ app, which automatically calculates the best time to post based on how much engagement each of your posts has had throughout history.

#3 Relationships

Instagram bases this on your relationship with the individual or company that has shared a post. They assess the interaction that you have with them. The more interaction that you have, the higher their posts will appear on your feed. This includes commenting or tagging photographs, stories, or videos.

 

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The Instagram algorithm can be likened to an undercover spy who pieces together information about you and those closest to you; they then dissect the information and feed it back to you to keep you captivated.

Who do you care about?

  •   Instagram looks at the accounts, stories, and live videos of those people and businesses whose content you enjoy
  •   The people that you send direct messages to
  •   People and accounts that you search for, and
  •   Real people that you know in life

Instagram will do its best to immediately understand this new relationship and your interest level after you start to follow or interact with them. You’ll start to see their content in your feed.

#4 Frequency

How often do you use Instagram? They will show you the worthiest posts since you last visited. If you regularly use the app, your feed will appear to look more chronological in order because they are trying to show you the best posts since the last time you scrolled through.

If you check your feed daily, you will probably see the posts that Instagram thinks are the most relevant for that day. However, suppose you check your Instagram feed less often. In that case, Instagram will organize the feed in a way that they believe you will like rather than in a timeline format.

#5 Following

Depending on how many people you follow, Instagram will choose from a more significant ‘library’ of content; you might see a dilution of posts from a particular person. If you follow many people, Instagram probably won’t show you as many posts from your favorite account or those that you don’t follow as closely. But suppose you are very selective about who you follow. In that case, you’ll see more from the individuals plus their closest friends from their favorite accounts.

It’s always wise to have a regular cull of your followers. Inactive and ghost followers can be detrimental to your account’s algorithmic ranking.

Instagram’s algorithm is smart and can immediately recognize a change in your circumstances. You might have found a new hobby or interest, started a new relationship or even moved to another state or country. It will start to collate this information and amend your algorithm.

#6 Usage

Based on your average time spent on the app, Instagram will determine the library that you see. You might only see the highlights and best posts if you use the app for a few minutes a day. If you spend a lot of time exploring a plethora of interests, Instagram will increase the size of their catalog of content for you, and you’ll see a more varied range.

 

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If you spend a tremendous amount of time on Instagram, you might even run out of new content to see. If this happens, the algorithm will make suggestions of content from new accounts that contain similar content to your interests and previous interactions.

How does the algorithm work for Instagram stories?

Instagram stories are photographs and videos that vanish after just 24 hours. Over 500 million creators post and view stories every day. It’s another excellent way to boost engagement and reach.

You’ll find stories at the beginning of your home feed; they are generally the accounts that you engage with the most through messages, views, comments, likes, and reactions.

The stories algorithm works similarly to ‘recency’; Instagram wants to ensure that you see the latest stories from your most liked accounts. Stories from the account that you engage with most will appear first.

Because the stories don’t last very long, you can post new content as often as you like. This gives you more of an opportunity to engage with new viewers as they browse their daily stories. Don’t forget, the more views you have, the better your ranking will be.

It’s now possible to schedule stories through various apps by creating a storyboard, adding links, calls-to-action, and captions. You can visually plan posts for the best possible impact and reach.

How does the Instagram algorithm work on the Explore page?

Again, Instagram has used your historical data and tries to deliver content that they think will interest you.

The most exciting part of the Explore page is that most of the content will be entirely from accounts you’ve never discovered before.

You can also explore new topics and categories from this page with advanced search functionality, keywords, and hashtags. It is clear that the Explore page algorithm offers you much more versatility than your feed, so it’s worth checking in here now and again to see what appeals both for content and visually. 

To appear on the Explore page, keep using your niche hashtags and strong captions to boost your ranking. It’s a powerful tool and feature for brands as it helps businesses gain better engagement and exposure on Instagram. Posts are selected on engagement and the competition ranking for a specific hashtag. 

Interestingly, a search will give the same result to everyone looking for content relating to a hashtag. In contrast, your personal Explore page is tailored only to your interests.

How does the Instagram algorithm work for IGTV videos and reels?

It’s pretty similar to the Instagram feed algorithm. Content is prioritized based on posts that you engage with and the accounts you interact with.

IGTV videos and Instagram Reels are also found on the Explore page. Why not share a preview of your IGTV video and send a positive signal to your algorithm to increase exposure.

How to improve your ranking with the Instagram algorithm, some creative tips, and tricks to improve ranking and reach new audiences

#1 Instagram stickers

There are many fun stickers to encourage interaction and audience engagement; our favorites are the emoji slider, question stickers, gifs, and polls. The algorithm works here as well; the more engagement your posts get, the higher they will be boosted by the algorithm.

#2 Use Instagram’s new features with gusto

Instagram is always updating the platform with exciting new features. Ensure that you keep up-to-date with their latest trends and take advantage of any new highlights that they are offering

 

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#3 Utilize hashtags

Instagram allows you to use 30 hashtags on each post, and it’s the most effective way to reach your audience. Every post view that you have will increase your visibility and improve the algorithm. With an excellent hashtag strategy, you will reach the right and relevant people for your business. They should engage with your content.

 

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Later has an intelligent hashtag suggestion feature. The suggestions are based on the other hashtags that you have successfully and historically used. Using one hashtag that you know is the right fit for your business, the ‘suggestions’ tool will generate 30 new hashtags that are sorted in order of relevance.

#4 Go back to basics

We all love great interactive captions. Comments on your posts are really important when Instagram ranks your feed through the algorithm. Encourage as many comments as you can on your posts through engaging content and by asking questions.

 

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#5 Reply to your direct messages

Another driver of the Instagram algorithm is direct messages. They are as important as comments and likes. Just like Instagram stories, if you interact through direct messaging, the accounts are pushed to the front of your stories feed. Again, it is trying its best to show you content it thinks you want to see.

Why not encourage your audience to send you a DM as part of your social media marketing strategy?

#6 Keep on top of Instagram analytics

Instagram analytics are comprehensive and can give you some great insights into your account and the algorithm. Understanding the facts and figures will ensure that you can see what is, and more importantly, what isn’t working on your account.

You should already have a marketing plan; make sure that you update this regularly. Long term, this will save you lots of time and effort. Learn to understand all of the key metrics as they will be able to help your strategy and improve your ranking. A marketing plan should be fluid, so don’t be afraid to make any amendments or updates.

#7 Learn how to cross-promote your Instagram content

Another great way of increasing your algorithm presence is to cross-promote. Please include your account details on your website, your business cards, other social media accounts and ensure that they link to all of your blog posts. Continue to push your presence in a circular motion. Also, share your content across the various platforms within Instagram through stories, Reels, IGTV, and your feed.

 

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You’ll be able to drive various audiences to your most up-to-date content strategically.

Instagram Algorithm: To Sum It Up

Remember that the Instagram algorithm uses machine learning, so it will always be developing and changing, which is why it is so important to keep up-to-date with the news from Instagram and monitor how they are continually improving their services. 

Always post consistently, use the tools that give you detailed insights, and create a beautiful feed and schedule posts and stories.

Drive interaction and dialogue with your audience; this helps you build a strong relationship with your followers and improve your stakes in the algorithm battle.

Take pride in each and every post, story, IGTV, and Reel content. Create a memorable and engaging story or caption and an aesthetically pleasing post enhanced by the correct use of hashtags.

The changes and updates to the Instagram algorithm might seem complicated; it encourages users to provide more thoughtful and better content.

Instagram’s innovations will allow you to create much deeper ties and relationships with your followers. They are the crux of your business, and to have them purchase products from you is a testament to all your hard work.

Optimize your content, and apply your strategy, pay attention to the algorithms and increase your reach.

Finally, be mindful of your audience, their preferences, and the overall messages you are sending to them.

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