The Complete Guide To Instagram’s Algorithm Feed (Everything You Need To Know)
No matter if you’re a regular Instagram user or someone who uses the platform every now and then, the algorithm is something that has affected you – whether you know it or not.
In fact, Instagram’s algorithm feed – also known as “Instagram algorithm” is Instagram’s biggest update to date since the platform launched in 2010.
Inevitably, a lot of confusion will be created, and questions will be asked, considering the fact that the update is affecting such a large number of people.
More exactly: over 700 million of them.
Even though the algorithm was introduced quite some time ago, there are still plenty of unanswered questions, myths, and confusion around it.
As a social media addict, I see it as my duty to guide you through all the questions you might have. As a result, I’ve taken on the challenge of writing the most thorough Instagram Algorithm guide to date.
Since we got no time to waste, let’s dig right in!
What is the Instagram algorithm?
I am still amazed that this question still is being asked all around the web. And to me, it’s a sign of bad communication from Instagram’s part. Simply put, they haven’t given their users enough information about the huge update and what exactly it means.
But I am not complaining. That just gives me the opportunity to try and explain it in the best way possible.
So. What is the Instagram algorithm, and what does it mean?
On March 15, 2016, Instagram announced that within the coming months, users would see a huge change in the way their content was displayed on the platform.
The change entitled moving from the chronological feed that Instagram had been using since its birth and moving the so-called algorithmic feed.
The chronological feed and how it worked was very simple. The latest posts uploaded from the people you follow are displayed at the top of your news feed, and the oldest posts from the people you follow are displayed at the bottom of your feed.
That way, you are presented with the latest content every time you log in to your Instagram.
With the algorithmically based feed, it is completely different. First of all, the concept isn’t simple. In fact, the content you now see in your feed and the way it is sorted is based on a highly advanced algorithm. Now, with the new algorithm, you won’t be able to make a conclusion or find a connection between what content you see in your feed and what time it has been posted, because really, there are none.
Now, you can get posts that have been posted many many hours ago – or even days ago, at the top of your feed, and the latest posts from people you follow at the bottom…
Considering that Instagram’s leading words and main idea always have been to ”share content on the spot” and ”in the moment”, some might find it strange Instagram have chosen to change their feed.
How the algorithm works exactly, we’ll go more into detail further on.
Why did Instagram launch algorithmic feed?
According to Instagram, the average Instagram user misses 70 percent of what’s in their feed.
This includes amazing photos with tons of engagement shared by their closest friends.
When Instagram launched their algorithm, the reason they gave was the following: ”As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.”
The takeaway from this is that Instagram’s new algorithmic-based feed is all about relevance. While the average Instagram user misses 70% of its feed, only a small portion of the remaining 30% is highly relevant to the user.
The goal of the new algorithm is therefore very simple: To remove the irrelevant content from your feed and only show the content that you care about, and that really matters to you.
If there’s one word that explains the algorithm, it’s relevance.
By filtering away all the noise and the posts you don’t care about, the end goal is to make sure you see 100% of the content that is displayed in your feed.
Instagram’s new algorithm has not only been faced with compliments, hugs, and roses,
In fact, it has been faced with more criticism than happy faces.
A petition was created against the algorithm with the demand “Keep Instagram chronological” and was able to accumulate 343,014 supporters.
This just shows how widespread the anger towards the algorithm really is.
Since you are here, I am taking the freedom to assume that you’ve already noticed the change in your feed and that you’ve got to build your own opinion about it.
What do you think about it?
As a new user, it’s impossible to have an opinion because you’ve never experienced anything else.
However, as someone who has been a regular user of Instagram since 2012, I can personally say the differences are enormous.
It’s like when someone goes from having brown hair to blonde.
You recognize them, but it looks completely different.
Now, you might believe that people are only upset about the algorithm because humans don’t like big changes in general.
And that might be the case to some extent.
But. The controversy and ”anger” goes much deeper than fear of change.
If you’ve been using Facebook regularly, you know that their organic reach has declined year after year, reaching a point where it is lower than ever.
This means an organic reach that is almost non-existent.
What does this have to do with Instagram, you may ask?
The truth is a lot.
In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock. Shortly thereafter, they introduced the algorithmic feed on Instagram.
When Facebook first was launched, they also had a chronological feed – until it was changed to an algorithmic one.
Can you see that the story is repeating itself?
This is where the controversy comes in..
Facebook has got a ton of complaints and accusations towards them, where people are accusing them of limiting the organic reach, forcing brands and people to pay in order to be seen.
By limiting the organic reach on Facebook, more people are forced to purchased marketing and ads in order to get seen, and Facebook earns more money.
Whether these allegations are true or not, I leave that up to you to decide what you want to believe.
But this graph that shows the relationship between Facebook’s declining organic reach and increased revenue is quite interesting.
There’s no doubt about it.
While Instagram has a lot higher organic reach than Facebook, Instagram is expected to walk the same path, replicating Facebook’s strategy.
After all, Facebook is the world’s biggest social platform, so it doesn’t exactly leave us wondering why they would try to replicate that success with Instagram.
That’s not all….
The anger some people have towards the algorithm seems to not only be because they think Instagram wants to make more money by limiting the organic reach, and deciding not to showcase people’s posts in users’ feeds.
There’s more to it than that.
In a blog post written by Amy Tori, published on Huffington Post, the writer explains her anger about the algorithm, and what she thinks is problematic about it.
In her article she writes:
”What they failed to remember is that the number one most functionally amazing technology ever created to tell Instagram with extreme accuracy what I want to see in chronological order is the follow button! The follow button was masterfully crafted with 100 percent accuracy to show users only what they want to see in their feed.”
Of course, this is very true. The reason you choose to tap ”Follow” on a profile is that you want to get their posts in your feed. But when you follow too many people, eventually, it will be impossible to stay updated with them all. And that is Instagram’s algorithm.
One of the most important factors when Instagram decides what is relevant to you is what content you engage with. For example, when you like and comments on posts from a particular account over and over, Instagram takes this an indication that the content is relevant to you.
But the writer explains a big flaw with taking engagement as an indication of relevant content. She means that there is a lot of content that you’re ”obligated” to like and engage with, for example, content shared by your relatives. While you don’t necessarily find those posts appealing you “have” to like them.
She also pointed out that the type of content you really want to see, but don’t necessarily want to engage with in the fear of getting ”busted” by people you know such as post from controversial people who post controversial or ”inappropriate” posts will never be displayed in your feed. From people like Dan Bilzerian.
Her conclusion was that the following: What you’ll end up with is boring images from your relatives that you don’t really want to see. You just engage with them because you feel like you have to.
Is the algorithm bad?
As with everything, there’s no right or wrong. Some people think it’s great, some people hate it.
My job is to present the facts so that you can get an opinion.
It is true that the content you share will receive a lower engagement because Instagram won’t present it to all of your followers.
However, at the same time, if the algorithm does what it is supposed to do, you’ll end up with content that you’ll enjoy more in your feed.
Also, the people who will see your posts will be more engaged in what you post.
A good thing is that before the algorithm, your feed got completely clogged up when someone you followed decided to post several images over a short period of time.
Thankfully, the algorithm helps battle this problem as they won’t showcase them all in your feed.
How does Instagram decide what you see in your feed?
To be honest, nobody outside of Instagram knows exactly.
As we talked about earlier, Facebook now owns Instagram, and since they’ve had such huge success with the way their algorithmic feed works, chances are they’ll be looking at replicating something similar – but not do it dramatically overnight.
In fact, in their press release, they said ”We’re going to take the time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months.”
Facebook’s algorithm presents the content in your feed with the help of these criteria:
(Including several other)
Living after the quote ”Never change a winning concept”, it’s clear that they are using a similar algorithm for Instagram – they’ve just tweaked it a little.
Just like Facebook’s algorithm, very few outside of Instagram knows how it really works.
However, this is what we do know:
Instagram’s word when describing how they were going to display the content in your feed was ”Relevancy”:
Shortly summarised, their algorithm will show you content which they believe you will find relevant.
But that doesn’t exactly tell us a lot, does it?
How can they know what you like?
Thankfully, we don’t come without any information at all.
Luckily for us, a spokesperson shared to BusinessInsider some of the criteria that the algorithm uses to rank the content in your feed.
These are the key points that can summarise the most important ranking factors:
- Profile Searches
- Direct Shares
- Time Spent
Let’s break them down and see what they really mean.
Engagement (and relationships)
Engagement and relevance fall under the same ranking factor. This factor mainly focuses on what type of content you engage with. In Instagram’s eyes, what content you engage with (how often and in what way etc.) reflects the relationship you have with that account.
Engagement mainly focuses on two things:
If Instagram sees that you are engaging regularly with particular accounts, they’ll take it as a sign that you enjoy the content from that account and rank future content from that page higher up in your feed.
Another thing the algorithm looks at when it comes to engagement is how many likes and comments a post has.
Of course, the posts with the highest engagement will not always be presented at the top of your feed.
Because that would mean presenting posts from celebrities at the top every time you log in (if you follow them).
It’s understandable that Instagram takes this metric into consideration. A post with a lot of likes, views, comments, and interactions signals that it is an engaging and high-quality post
That’s not all….
It’s not just about how much engagement a post receives. It’s also about how quickly it receives it.
In fact, for ranking, how fast you receive the engagement is even more important than how much engagement you receive.
When your post was shared
It is true that the time of when you post is no longer as important than to used to be with the chronological content.
With the chronological feed, the reason to why people put a lot of emphasis on the time they posted was simple. Because the latest content ended up at the top of people’s feed, of course, you want to share at a time when most of your followers are active.
Doing so meant getting higher engagement on your posts as more people saw them.
While the time of when you share a post isn’t as important as it used to be, it doesn’t mean that it is completely irrelevant.
In fact, according to the spokesperson for Instagram, time is one of the algorithm’s ranking factors.
When deciding how to showcase content in your feed, the algorithm will look at when the photo was posted.
The reason to this is because: even though the algorithmic feed focuses more on relevance, it doesn’t want to present content at the top of your feed that was shared days or even weeks ago
If they would, the post might not even be relevant anymore when you get to see it. For example, a brand shares a post informing their followers about a flash sale that only lasts for 24 hours, giving their followers 90% off on everything.
What good would seeing the post three days after it has been posted do?
Chances are it will only make you frustrated.
Of course, this also depends on how often you’re accessing the app. If you only open it once a week, or a few times a week, the algorithm tends to show older posts that you might have missed while you were away.
How this metric works I am unsure about because I am every now and then seeing posts in my feed that was shared several days ago.
I guess they’re still in the development process…
After all, they did say they would give it time to make it right.
Another Interesting criteria that Instagram uses are the number of times your post gets shared through Direct Message.
While there isn’t any way to see how many times your post has been shared by other people through Direct Message, Instagram certainly keeps a record.
When you send people’s post through direct message, it is a sign that you enjoy their content, thus making future posts from them rank higher in your feed.
When you search for users in the Search and Explore tab, Instagram has yet another piece of information about what individuals or brand you find interesting.
If you search for someone who you follow often, the algorithm will see this as a sign of relevancy, drawing the conclusion that ”This person is relevant to you. Let’s rank posts from this person higher in your feed”.
How Long People view your post for
The algorithm is more clever than just looking at how many likes a post receive, or how often you engage with posts from particular accounts.
The algorithm also looks at the time you spend looking at the posts in your feed. If you spend more time on a post, it is an indication to the algorithm that you enjoy it.
The type of content
Apart from the algorithm looking at how much you engage with posts from a particular page, it tends to go a lot deeper than that.
This means that it also studies what type of post it is you are sharing. For this, caption and hashtags are extremely helpful.
That Instagram sees what type of content you engage with is no secret.
In fact, this has been done long before the actual algorithm was introduced.
For example, if you’ve spent a lot of time engaging with celebrities, and looking at their profiles, Instagram suggest similar profiles in your feed
To be even more specific, they’ll show you individuals from that particular industry.
This means that if you’re engaging with accounts belonging to soccer players, Instagram is more likely to recommend similar accounts to you, for example in suggested accounts.
The only difference now is that they’ve implemented this criteria into the algorithm that decides what you see in your timeline. So if you’re often engaging with posts from a different industry, genre, or niche, they’re more likely to present similar content in your feed more often.
Why people’s engagement is decreasing
The main factors that decide what content you’ll see in your feed are the posts you like, and the posts you comment on. There are also a few other highly important criteria that we just brought up.
But if you don’t comment, like, and engage? What happens then?
What happens then?
The hard truth is that content you don’t engage with or hardly look at will slowly but surely be erased from your feed. Eventually, you won’t see any posts from particular accounts which you don’t interact with.
This is the main reason why the engagement is decreasing.
Fewer and fewer people will see the posts you share as a result of not engaging with them.
Of course, then there is the fact that no all posts are surfaced in your feed. Posts from your best friends and the people you are engaging with the most will most likely always surface towards the top of your feed – preventing you from missing a single post.
However, a lot of posts from accounts you don’t interact with equally often will never see the light of your feed.
How to win over the algorithm and make it work in your favor
Okay, I know it looks bad about the engagement and the decreased organic reach, but this is not the end of organic reach, or at least reach in some form on the platform.
At least not yet.
Let’s look at the actions you can take to make the algorithm work in your favor, and make sure you aren’t harmed by it with decreasing numbers.
1.Use Instagram ads
This is obviously not an organic strategy, but it’s a surefire way of reaching people.
Of course, as a regular user, it doesn’t make much sense to pay for exposure, however, if you’re a business, this might be highly relevant for you.
The best part about Instagram ads is that you can target people with highly specific criteria in a way that was difficult before Instagram introduced ads on the platform in 2013. Instagram ads are also a great for getting exposure without putting in countless of hours into the platform.
With Instagram ads, you can promote both an existing post of yours and boost it to reach a bigger audience, or you can create a fully custom ad campaign with your own design.
Instagram uses the same ad interface as Facebook so if you’re familiar with Facebook, you won’t have a hard time navigating.
Also, according to me, it’s a good idea that Instagram hasn’t started from scratch with their ads, and instead implemented everything they’ve learned from Facebook ads into Instagram.
2. Focus on quality
The algorithm is created so that the low-quality content and irrelevant posts are buried far down your feed – or nothing at all.
If you want your content to be seen, make sure you focus on creating appealing, high-quality content.
Related: Creating appealing visual content for social media
3. Learn what your followers like
If you gain followers who aren’t really interested in what you have to offer, your posts will slowly disappear from their feed, thus leaving you with a high number of followers and a low engagement.
Tha’s not a place you want to be.
If they don’t find your posts interesting, they won’t engage with them.
If they don’t engage with them. your posts won’t end up at the top of their feed.
Maybe not at all…
Instead, focus on acquiring quality followers that will engage with your posts, and then, learn what type of content is enjoyed the most by your audience so you can tweak your existing content strategy.
Luckily for you, I have two special tricks up my sleeve how to do that.
How to learn what your followers like method 1:
The first and most logical method to learn what your audience like is to look at the engagement your latest posts receive.
Look through the latest posts – or how many you’d like. The more data you have, the more accurate results you’ll end up with.
First, start with likes. How many likes do your posts get? Are there any posts that get a higher number of likes than average? If so, Do they have any characteristics that can be easily identified?
Usually, you’ll quickly be able to see a pattern in the type of content that gets more likes.
Talking about patterns, that brings us to the next method of seeing what content your audience likes the most.
Method 2: Insights
The other method is to use Instagram insights.
if you haven’t yet started using Insights, you should. Insights is Instagram’s own built-in analytics tools that let you see a number of statistics about how your posts and page is performing.
To learn more about your posts and their performance, go to your profile and tap the statistics icon located in the top right corner.
Where you see the section “Posts” tap “See more”.
Here you can choose to filter your posts by time, what type of post it is, and what type of interactions they’ve generated.
Preferably, you want to look at “Engagement”.
Tap apply, and your posts will be arranged in your selected order. Nor, you’ll have all your top performing next to each other.
When you do this, it’s often very easy to see similarities between the top performing posts and what they have in common.
Often, it can be things such as brightness, color, or most importantly, the motive of the post.
4.Use the right hashtags
As the algorithm was introduced, the subject “shadow ban” has been a hot topic. What the shadow ban essentially means is that it blocks hashtags certain people use, thus limiting their reach outside of their own follower base.
Then, of course, whether or not you are shadow banned, it’s important to use relevant hashtags.
Your hashtags should be:
- Up to date
First of all, you want to make sure your hashtags are specific. This means making the hashtags you use less broad. This will help you be more specific in your hashtags, thus letting you reach people who really matter. For example, instead of using the hashtag #Car, use #FordFocus instead.
Secondly, make sure your hashtags are up to date. This means monitoring hashtags your competitors, followers, and customers are using and seeing if you could use them to connect with them. This also means keeping track of trends that might be worth hopping onto.
Thirdly, make your hashtags relevant. Don’t just use any hashtags such as the “Top 30 Instagram hashtags” These are too generic and often heavily crowded.
These hashtags will certainly not let potential customers find you.
5.Use Stories and Live video
Unlike your feed, Stories are not yet saturated and is displayed at the top of your feed. Most people actually open and watch all of their stories in their feed, which means you can get much better reach and results by posting stories.
TheAmplify is seeing 28% higher open rates on Instagram Stories compared with Snapchat. Also, influencers have reported seeing an average of 6-10% of their followers open their Instagram Stories every day. Compared to regular posts who often only see an average of 0.5-3% engagement, it is an incredibly high number.
Share posts that make people hold up (Videos)
We’ve talked about how the algorithm takes the time of which you look at a post into consideration.
A natural result would be to create content that keeps your audience’s attention for a longer period of time.
Thankfully, we have boomerangs and videos (and a few other tricks) at our disposal to help achieve this.
A boomerang is a mini video that replays itself over and over again.
Because it takes more time to watch a boomerang than a regular photo (and they are often more interesting), they tend to keep the viewer at the post a few seconds longer. For the algorithm, every single second extra is valuable and might be what decides whether or not your post will be displayed in their feed.
Slideshows, also known as carousels or “multiple posts” is a feature that lets you upload up to 10 photos or videos in once posts that your followers can slide through.
If you share 10 posts in one, the most reasonable conclusion will be that it takes 10 times the time to view all of your posts in a carousel than only one regular post.
Now, the best thing to do is to share 10 videos in a carousel. That is the ultimate time-consumer and the most beneficial for the algorithm.
However, getting your audience to stay and watch all of your 10 videos might be a difficult task. Because chances are, they’ll lose focus.
In fact, creating 10 videos to share every day is a big challenge in itself.
Remember that the human has a focus-span that is shorter than a goldfish’s.
Create an appealing video which grabs your audience’s attention, and makes it long, because as a result, the algorithm will reward you.
6. Write appealing captions
If you want to beat the Instagram algorithm, crafting appealing, attention-grabbing, and interesting captions will do a lot for your retention rate and the time your audience views your post.
Creating appealing Instagram captions is an art.
To fully master it, I recommend you reading
. If you have an engaging caption, people are more likely to actually read it or click the “more” button, which increases the time spent
In general, Instagram posts today have a longer half-life than they used to, meaning that more people can see your posts over a longer period of time. This is why you’re probably still getting likes from a photo you posted yesterday or the day before!
Okay, so this doesn’t seem too bad at all. But what about us stalkers that scroll through people’s feed without engaging? Nope, they will probably not be shown in your feed.
Lastly, is the big change good or bad? It is up to you to decide. If you think about the part where you will see less spammy pictures in your feed and mostly get followers that really are engaged in your content – then sure.