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How the Instagram Algorithm Works in 2021 and 6 Tips to Hack It

Gone are those days when Instagram ranked posts in chronological order. As of writing this article, the social networking algorithm has changed remarkably, leaving many brands scrambled behind. In this article, we’ll show you how the Instagram algorithm works and 6 tips to hack it. 

How does the Instagram algorithm work? 

If you’ve used Instagram since it was launched in 2010, you’d know that back then, its algorithm was pretty simple. The latest posts would appear on Instagrammers’ new feeds first when they opened the app. However, things are so different now!

Take a look at the knowledge-sharing video by Adam Mosseri- the Head of Instagram about the platform’s current algorithm:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Adam Mosseri (@mosseri)

After Instagram Stories first emerged in 2016 and went all the rage, the social media platform has evolved remarkably. And from one simple chronological model, for all features, Instagram now has different algorithms running simultaneously.

How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Feed Posts in 2021

The new Instagram algorithm maneuvers the posts that users can see when they scroll through their feeds. For further explanation, the Instagram algorithm prioritizes posts based on users’ preferences then pushes the most compatible ones on top while the less relevant ones stay further down.

Although the algorithm is subject to change, here are 4 main factors that you can rely on for now: (confirmed by Instagram themselves)

  • Information about the post: Where is the post location? What is the post about? Is it a photo or a video? Does it have a lot of engagement?
  • Information about the poster: Whether this person is interesting to you? How many times have people interacted with this person for the last few weeks? 
  • Your activity: Do you prefer videos over photos? Is there any content you’re especially keen on? 
  • Relationship with the poster: Is the poster your friend? Whether you comment/like on their posts?

After scrutinizing the elements above, Instagram will sort out and decide on which posts will appear on users’ feeds. Here are 5 interactions that Instagram uses to show you the most relevant posts: 

  • Time spent: How long are you going to look at a post? 
  • Like: Are you going to like the post?
  • Comment: Are you going to leave a comment?
  • Save: Will you press the Save button?
  • Tap on Profile: Is the post interesting enough it urges you to tap on the poster’s profile?

Remember to feed your followers with highly relevant content (image quality, caption, etc.). Otherwise, they will be less likely to interact with your posts. As a direct result, the Instagram algorithm will push your posts further down, limiting your discoverability. 

How the algorithm works for Instagram Stories

The algorithm for Instagram Stories is similar to how it works on feed posts. The stories that appear first when you open the app are from the users with whom we are most likely to interact.

 

 The users appear on the left are those you engage most

The users appear on the left are those you engage most

Instagram stories are full-screen on mobile-native vertical format, they are instantaneously engaging. That’s why you should post stories regularly to improve your ranking on your audience feeds.

Not to mention that this bite-size content is down-to-earth, you only need 2 things- get a camera and get creative. 

However, you’re just wasting your time on the platform unless you utilize Instagram Stories in the right way.    

How the algorithm works for Instagram Reels

The algorithm for Stories and Feed posts will push the relevant posts from the accounts we are following. Meanwhile, the algorithm that runs for Instagram Reels is different.

Technically, Instagram will prioritize the content we typically engage with. In another word, Instagram will recommend us relevant videos from any account.

Here’s how the ranking algorithm works on Reels, confirmed by Instagram themselves:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Instagram’s @Creators (@creators)

So as to decide on which Reels to show you, Instagram uses 4 signals, in order of importance:

  1. Which reels you have recently engaged with
  2. Your history of interacting with the person who posted the reel
  3. Information about the reels: which audio is used in the reel? How popular is it?
  4. Information about the person who posted: how other users interact with this person?

To boost visibility for your Reels, check out these tips to create Reels that work for your business

How the algorithm works for IGTV

The Instagram algorithm works on IGTV is similar to how it does with Instagram Reels. Instagram will suggest us the videos we’re most likely to be interested in. 

IGTV is long-form content that can last 15 minutes if uploaded via mobile & 1 hour if uploaded via website. That’s why re-uploading existing Youtube videos to IGTV can save you lots of time and effort.

To expand your IGTV reach, we recommend you post a preview on your feed to give your followers a sneak peek. 

Give your audience a short preview to stir up their curiosity

Give your audience a short preview to stir up their curiosity

By doing this, you can increase the video exposure, which leaves a positive signal for the Instagram algorithm. 

How the algorithm works for the Explore Page

Pretty much like Reels, the algorithm that works on the Explore Page will ensure that you only see the content you are most interested in. 

However, it’s noteworthy that the vast majority of the posts you see on the Explore Page are from the new users whom you haven’t followed yet.

Most of users on this page are those we don't know yet

Most of the users on this page are those we don’t know yet

Here are the key signals Instagram uses to rank posts on the Explore Tab:

  • ​​Information about the new post: how many people like/comment/share on a post and how quickly they take the actions. Instagram algorithm weighs these signals much more than it does on Stories and Feed posts.
  • Your history of interacting with the poster: Have you interacted with this person previously? 
  • Your activity: Is there any piece of content that you gravitate towards? Do you prefer video over photo content?
  • Information about the poster: The number of Instagrammers who have interacted with the poster in the last few weeks

The accounts on Explore Page are largely those we are new to. Thus, by boosting your presence on the Explore Tab, you can have more opportunities to sell your products to a wider range of customers. 

As of writing this article, Instagram Reels feature the most prominent position on the Explore Page. Therefore, investing in Reels could be a great way to get your brand exposed to billions of Instagrammers. 

See how extra large a Reel compared to a normal post on the same Explore Tab?

See how extra large a Reel compared to a normal post on the same Explore Tab?

Besides, there are also other effective strategies to get your posts on the Explore Page we think you’d love to read more about. 

How to hack the Instagram Algorithm for your sake?

To improve your ranking with the Instagram algorithm, there’s nothing more effective than focusing on posting helpful, relevant content to drive as much engagement as possible.

Now that you have a better understanding of how Instagram works for each feature, it’s high time we walked you through these 6 hacks to get cheated on the algorithm for your sake.

#Instagram Algorithm Hack 1: Post at optimal times

So as to maximize your posts’ visibility, do not post randomly. Instead, you should try to publish your content on Instagram at the times when your followers are active the most. 

Navigate to Insights > Your Audience then scroll down to the bottom and you can know your peak posting times.

This will give you more insights about your followers' active times

This will give you more insights about your followers’ active times

You can view this information by 7 days in a week or get more specific by hours on specific days. For a more accurate result, remember to switch to a wide period of time (30 days instead of 7 days). 

Get your posts up during peak hours is important because when your content receives many interactions within a short period of time, it leaves a good impression on the algorithm. And eventually, Instagram will suggest your posts to more of your followers.

#Instagram Algorithm Hack 2: Add your Instagram feed on website

If you already have an eCommerce website that rocks, embed your Instagram feed on that website could increase your chances of being discovered. 

If you have a Shopify eCommerce business, we recommend you add Instagram posts to your website using our proud Socialwidget

This helps boost your store visibility, win more sales and drive more traffic to your Instagram profile. So many benefits to enjoy all at once!

Bring your Instagram posts and place them delicately like this

Bring your Instagram posts and place them delicately like this

And what makes Socialwidget really stand out is that it now allows you to add Instagram Stories and group them into beautiful Highlights like this to be displayed on your site:

These Instagram widgets are not for just decorative purposes. You can tag products to each photo/carousel/video/story to make your Instagram feeds shoppable on your website.

#Instagram Algorithm Hack 3: Make use of brand-new features

Want to leave good signals on the Instagram algorithm? There is no better way than to make the best use of the platform’s latest features- IGTV and Instagram Reels.

We don’t know whether Instagram makes any change on how content shows up on the Explore Page. However, in the meantime, it’s pretty clear that it favors video content more because IGTV videos and Reels are displayed larger in size compared to normal posts.

Thus, why not taking advantage of this free extra boost to get yourself more chances of being discovered?

#Instagram Algorithm Hack 4: Use Geotag to boost local engagement

If you have a brick-and-mortar store out there, it’s important to build up brand awareness within your local community first. 

Once the Instagram algorithm gets that you drive real engagement with your followers, it would favor your Instagram profile more. 

And let us tell you something! That’s a totally possible scenario with proper use of Instagram geotag

This is an example of using geotag to boost engagement with local patrons

This is an example of using geotag to boost engagement with local patrons

People believe in user-generated content much more than they do with branded content. Therefore, incentivize Instagrammers that pay an actual visit to your store to check in using your geotag.

#Instagram Algorithm Hack 5: Use hashtags

Instagram hashtags are old, but they are gold.

Putting in relevant and quality hashtags can help Instagram categorize your content more accurately and recommend your posts to the users who are really interested.

When it’s hashtags game, get as specific hashtags as possible

When it’s hashtags game, get as specific hashtags as possible

Though Instagram limits 30 hashtags per post, adding 30 hashtags to every post can do you more harm than good. Instead, you may want to be selective and choose the hashtags that do work, which we’ll show you here.

#Instagram Algorithm Hack 6: Comment on posts of brands in your niche

Apart from curating unique and high-quality content for your Instagram posts, you might love to engage on content from other Instagrammers. 

Particularly, you could leave comments on content from your potential customers, relevant Instagram influencers, especially brands in your niche. 

Take the Founder of 1212 Gateway Skincare, for instance, Catherine Paiz regularly drops a comment on posts of Kylie Jenner- Founder of Kylie Cosmetics. 

Engage with relevant Instagram accounts like this can improve your discoverability

Engage with relevant Instagram accounts like this can improve your discoverability

By doing so, she can put herself on the radar among Kylie’s fans, who are largely cosmetic-aholic. And the more users click on her profile and interact with her posts, the higher the Instagram algorithm ranks her future content.

To find brands that sell the same products like yours, try to search for posts by niche hashtag. And remember, though it’s a great idea to engage with other relevant accounts, don’t make it look spammy.

Final thoughts

We are not so sure whether Instagram will keep changing the way it ranks photos or not. 

However, we strongly believe that interactions (likes/comments/shares) will continue to be the most important signals that the Instagram algorithm uses to rank our posts.

That’s why we hope this article can help you to understand how the social networking site works in 2021 and thereby improve your posts ranking.