Hack the Algorithm: The 6 Factors that Instagram Uses to Rank Your Posts

While the exact science behind Instagram’s algorithm are a secret known only to their programmers, luckily, we do have an idea of what factors influence the algorithm. #MichaelsWilder #Instagram Click To Tweet

Does the arrangement of posts on your Instagram feed ever feel a bit…random to you? Why is it that certain posts rank higher than others? Ever since Instagram abandoned the chronological timeline last year, users have struggled to understand how exactly the algorithm determines what type of content appears at the top of their feed. Some argue that the algorithm isn’t even particularly good at delivering the posts they want to see. However, love it or hate it, getting a handle on how to tailor your content to appeal to the all-mighty algorithm is key to getting more eyes on your content.

While the exact science behind Instagram’s algorithm are a secret known only to their programmers, luckily, we do have an idea of what factors influence the algorithm thanks to an Instagram spokesperson:

#1: Engagement

Duh. This is the most obvious factor that comes into play when we’re talking about the Instagram algorithm. When someone likes, comments, saves, or shares a piece of content, they’re essentially telling Instagram that they find this post valuable.

The catch, however, is that not all types of engagement are created equal. Likes rank lowest on the hierarchy of engagement since they require very little actual interaction. (I find this pretty ironic considering how obsessed our collective culture can be when it comes to our like count.) The algorithm prioritizes more meaningful forms of engagement like comments, shares, and saves. And, while you can’t see the number of times users have shared your posts, rest assured that Instagram is keeping tabs.

Comments and shares signal that the piece of content has sparked a discussion, and saves indicate that you’re interested in further engaging with this content at a later date. All of these interactions show a deeper level of engagement than just tapping the heart icon.

Shifting your focus away from likes and finding ways to encourage deeper levels of engagement is key to improving your ranking within the Instagram algorithm. (We’ve written more comprehensively here on how to get more users to save your posts.) 

#2: Time Spent Viewing

Yes, Instagram does track how long you linger on a certain post. While that may sound a little like something out of Orwell’s 1984, it does make sense for Instagram’s goal of delivering content that keeps you engaged.

Getting people to stop the scroll and spend time with your post is a matter of giving them more to look at. So, instead of a photo with a one-sentence caption, you could try a carousal of images with a longer story as your caption. If you can get people hooked with your first sentence and get them to click “More” to read the rest, you’ll be vastly increasing the amount of time people spend with your post. Videos also perform well on Instagram for this very reason.

#3: Interaction Over Time

Ever wonder why Aunt June’s posts are always at the top of your feed even though she only has 50 followers and averages only 5 likes per post? That’s because overall popularity isn’t everything. The people who you engage with regularly—like from friends or family—is much more likely to appear near the top of your feed.

Regular engagement signals to Instagram’s algorithm that you have historically enjoyed the content from that user, and chances are, that means you’ll be interested in any upcoming content they post as well.

#4: Age of Post

While the chronological feed may be dead (RIP), that doesn’t mean that the age of the post no longer has any effect on where it appears in the feed. However, the average age of the content you see is going to be vary from user to user.

Usually, Instagram tends to favor newer content (i.e. photos posted within the last day) to older content. However, if you browse Instagram less frequently, say every few days or once a week, you may see a greater number of older posts than someone who logs in daily.

That doesn’t mean that your timeline will be filled with old content, though, if you don’t check in for a few days. You’ll likely only see the highlights mixed in with some newer content. Typically, if you’re seeing an older post, it’s because the Instagram algorithm has used a combination of other factors to determine that this piece of content is one that you don’t want to miss.

#5: Content Genre

Even if two people follow many of the same accounts, their feeds will not look the same. That’s because Instagram ranks posts partially on the type of content with which you regularly engage.

To illustrate, let’s say you primarily follow two types of accounts—fitness bloggers and musicians. Now, let’s say that you only tend to like, comment on, and share the fitness bloggers’ content. You ask questions about workout routines, share routines with gym buddies, and so on. In that case, you may notice that your feed is skewed to favor posts that are fitness-related rather than music-related. That’s because Instagram’s algorithm will notice this engagement and deliver similar content to the posts you’ve liked, shared, saved, and commented on before.

#6: Search History

Searching for another user’s account means that you’ve been thinking about that person and their content, which signals to Instagram that you find their posts especially engaging. Say, for example, that you’re constantly typing a specific user into the search bar because you know that they’re running a promotion through one of their posts sometime in the next couple of days. Instagram will take that as a sign that you want to see more of their content, and may start prioritizing posts from that account. In this case, you’re unwittingly boosting that account’s visibility within your feed.

If you hate the new Instagram algorithm, you aren’t alone. However, sometimes we all need to play nice with the people, or algorithms in this case, we can’t stand. But, just like that annoying coworker who you’re always stuck with for important projects, understanding what makes the IG algorithm tick is key to getting along and improving your results.

Mike Speer Administrator
Chief Marketing Officer Michaels WIlder

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

Chief Marketing Officer at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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Mike Speer Administrator
Chief Marketing Officer Michaels WIlder

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

Chief Marketing Officer at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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