How does the Instagram algorithm actually work?
We’re breaking down how the Instagram algorithm works for feed posts, stories, the Explore page, and Instagram Reels.
Plus, discover our top tips to “hack” the Instagram algorithm, so you can get more engagement for your business or brand.
What Is the Instagram Algorithm?
You’ll often hear the Instagram algorithm referred to as a singular concept, but there are really multiple algorithms at play.
In fact, Instagram describes it as a "variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose. We want to make the most of your time, and we believe that using technology to personalize your experience is the best way to do that."
In other words, Instagram's algorithms have one goal: to make you stay on the app longer by delivering content you'll find relevant and interesting.
If you work in social media, knowing about the latest algorithm updates is a huge advantage.
You can tailor your strategy to "hack" what the algorithm is prioritizing — so you can reach more users and build a community of engaged followers.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work in 2023?
As mentioned, there are multiple Instagram algorithms at play — each one for a different part of the app, whether it's feed posts or Reels.
The major takeaway? Instagram algorithms rely on three key signals:
Who: Whose posts are you interacting with? If you frequently like or comment on someone's content, you're more likely to see their posts in your feed.
What: What type of content do you engage with? For example, if you love beauty content, the algorithm will continue serving that type of content to you.
When: As Laurise explains, "This focuses on when a post has been posted to decide if it's relevant to you." It also takes into consideration how often you scroll on the app — so it will pick and choose what to prioritize.
Keep reading for a more in-depth breakdown of how each algorithm works, depending on the content type.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Feed Posts in 2023
The Instagram feed algorithm has changed a lot over the last five years, pivoting to a model that favors interest.
It takes into consideration the likelihood of five main interactions when deciding how to rank a post on someone's Home feed. These are:
Time spent: Are you going to spend time on the post?
Likes: How likely are you to like the post?
Comments: How likely are you to comment on the post?
Saves: How likely are you to save the post?
Taps on Profile: How likely are you to tap on the profile after seeing the post?
“The more likely you are to take an action, and the more heavily we weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post," says Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram:
But how does the algorithm know what content you're most likely to interact with?
According to Mosseri, it's a complex process. "We add and remove signals and predictions over time, working to get better at surfacing what you’re interested in.”
These signals include:
Information about the post: Is it a photo or a video? When was it posted? How many likes does it have?
Information about the poster: How interesting are they to you? Are they your friend? How often do people engage with their content?
Your activity: Do you tend to watch a lot of videos? What type of content do you typically engage with?
Your interaction history: Do you typically like or comment on the poster’s posts?
The takeaway? The Instagram algorithm monitors every interaction you make on the app, from the posts you like to who you interact with, in order to serve you content it believes you will interact with.
What Else Can Impact Feed Post Ranking on Instagram?
There are some additional factors, beyond the interest score, that can impact where a post lands in someone's Home feed. These include:
Image or video quality
Originality (i.e. whether the post has been already shared on Instagram)
Violations to Instagram's Community Guidelines
What Engagements Are Most Important to the Instagram Algorithm?
Engagement is key, especially when it comes to the Instagram algorithm.
It considers how likely you are to comment, like, save, spend time, or tap on a profile.
Keeping this in mind, as you plan your content and captions — ask yourself these questions:
Is this post likely to be liked or commented on?
Is this a post someone would save and come back to?
Does this post include a CTA (for example, “Click the link in my bio”) that will prompt someone to tap on your profile?
Creating content that will encourage this type of engagement can help you “hack” the Instagram algorithm for your benefit.
TIP: Use Later's Instagram Analytics to understand which posts deliver the highest engagement for your account.
How the Instagram Reels Algorithm Works in 2023
Knowing how to "hack" the Reels algorithm can be a huge advantage for anyone looking to grow on Instagram.
Much like feed posts, Instagram prioritizes Reels based on what it believes a viewer will be most likely to interact with, and uses a set of signals to help rank content.
According to Instagram, brands and creators should create Reels that are entertaining, inspiring, or experimental and use creative tools like text, camera effects, or filters.
You should also avoid posting Instagram Reels that are low-resolution, too blurry, have already been shared elsewhere, or are visibly recycled from another app.
These types of Reels will be deprioritized — meaning they’ll be less likely to appear across the app.
For an additional boost, we recommend sharing your Instagram Reels to your main feed, using relevant keywords and hashtags to increase discoverability, and including on-screen captions to make your content more accessible.
Ready to level-up your Instagram Reels strategy? Bookmark this post for everything you need to know: The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Reels.
How the Instagram Stories Algorithm Works in 2023
The Instagram Stories algorithm typically prioritizes content from the accounts you interact with the most, rather than the specific content of a story.
Due to their short-lived nature, timeliness is less important for stories — but it can have a slight impact on ranking once a story gets to 10+ hours.
With this in mind, it's a good idea to regularly share Instagram Stories that encourage engagement — poll, question, and quiz stickers are all great ways to drive interactions.
ICYMI: With Later, you can plan and schedule your Instagram Stories, add captions or links, and set a publish time.
When it’s time to post, you’ll receive everything you need delivered straight to your mobile — so you can share your content in seconds.
How the Instagram Explore Page Algorithm Works in 2023
The Instagram Explore page algorithm delivers content that it thinks you’ll be most interested in, based on your prior interactions.
While your Instagram Home feed is mainly made up of content from accounts you already follow, the Explore feed consists almost entirely of content from new accounts.
According to Instagram, “the most important actions we predict in Explore include likes, saves, and shares.”
The Explore page is constantly evolving, with new topic categories and advanced search functionalities being introduced all the time.
For example, you can now search by keywords, as well as hashtags, to discover feeds of relevant content:
This suggests that the Explore page algorithm also considers the visual content of your posts along with the words in your caption.
So by continually sharing engaging content with strong captions, relevant keywords, and niche hashtags, you’re optimizing your posts for Explore page potential.
TIP: Write your Instagram captions in advance with Later's Instagram Scheduler. Get started today — it's free!
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Business, Creator, and Personal Accounts in 2023
There have been rumors that the Instagram algorithm better serves certain accounts, with Business profiles being favored.
However, it can be officially put to rest as Instagram confirmed in a series of Stories on the @creators account, that all account types are treated equally when it comes to the algorithms.
This means that regardless of whether you have a Personal, Creator, or Business account, it won’t make any difference to how the Instagram algorithm ranks your content.
6 Ways to "Beat" the Instagram Algorithm in 2023
If you want to improve your ranking with the Instagram algorithm, the best thing you can do is drive as many interactions (likes, comments, saves, and clicks) as possible.
And by building momentum with your existing community, you’ll soon find your content surfaced to new audiences.
Here are six ways to improve your algorithmic ranking and reach new audiences:
Consistently Share Instagram Reels
Encourage Interactions with Instagram Stories Stickers
Drive Conversations with Engaging Captions
Add Hashtags and Keywords to Your Posts
Cross-promote Your Instagram Content
Use Instagram Analytics to See What's Working
#1: Consistently Share Instagram Reels
Instagram Reels are still being heavily promoted by Instagram across the entire app experience.
Plus, Reels get twice as much real-estate in the Instagram Explore page – making them a major tactic for discovery and growth.
#2: Encourage More Interactions with Instagram Stories Stickers
Instagram Stories stickers are a great way to encourage audience engagement — and the more engagement your posts get, the higher they’ll be boosted by the Instagram algorithm.
TIP: Include a sticker on your first story for an added boost!
#3: Drive Conversations with Engaging Captions
Instagram has confirmed comments and likes are important when it comes to feed ranking — so it’s a great idea to encourage as many as possible for your posts.
One of the best ways to do this? Write good captions that drive engagement.
This could be as simple as asking your followers to share their thoughts, double-tap if they agree, tag a friend in the comments, or click the link in your bio.
#4: Add Hashtags and Keywords to Your Posts
Adding hashtags and keywords to your posts is an effective way to reach more people on Instagram, which means more “views” for the Instagram algorithm to take into account.
In a recent Later study, we discovered that feed posts with 30 hashtags get the highest level of engagement on average.
30 hashtags may feel like a lot, but one way to discover new hashtags for your brand is by using Later’s Hashtag Suggestions feature.
Hashtag Suggestions works by automatically finding relevant hashtags for your posts based on your caption and other hashtags you search.
#5: Cross-promote Your Instagram Content
If you’re looking for a quick and easy engagement win to help boost your algorithm ranking, cross-promoting your Instagram content is a great place to start.
Instagram Collabs posts (with co-shared authorship) are an incredible new way to reach new audiences.
You’ll share views, likes, and comments — allowing you to leverage and engage with each other’s communities.
#6: Use Instagram Analytics to See What’s Working
Tracking and monitoring how your content is performing on Instagram is one of the most reliable ways to take on the Instagram algorithm.
Having a better understanding of what’s working (and what isn’t) will help you come up with a finely tuned marketing plan, saving you time and effort in the long run.
But diving into your Instagram Analytics means more than just finding out which photo, video, or Reel performed best.
Truly understanding how your content performs — by tracking key metrics over time — is vital to knowing what helps improve your ranking.
The easiest way to do this? Later’s Analytics feature:
With it, you'll get a visual overview of how your content is performing — in an easy, digestible format.
The best way to gain an advantage with the Instagram algorithm in 2023?
Know your niche, create engaging content, and be consistent. The algorithm will do the rest.