How does the Instagram algorithm actually work?
It’s a question that’s caused a lot of confusion (and frustration!) for business on Instagram since the controversial move away from a chronological feed.
It seemed the Instagram algorithm was making it harder than ever to reach target audiences, get more followers, and improve engagement on your posts.
But the good news is that once you understand how the Instagram algorithm works, you can use it to build a killer Instagram strategy, and continue to grow your account!
We’re demystifying the rumors and covering everything you need to know about the Instagram algorithm in 2019 — it’s time to take back control of your Instagram marketing strategy this year!
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work For Your Feed Posts in 2019?
There’s no question about it, Instagram posts are no longer getting the amount of exposure they used to. Now, it’s rumored that only 10% of your audience is actually seeing your posts in their feed.
This can be extremely frustrating for businesses hoping to reach new customers, and even worse for influencers whose business model depends on their followers seeing their content.
Here’s what we’ve learned out about the Instagram algorithm in 2019 from our own research, experience, and conversations with social media managers.
Plus some top tips to get the new Instagram algorithm working on your side and improving your posts’ visibility and engagement:
#1: The Instagram Algorithm Predicts How Much You Care About a Post
Your Instagram feed isn’t just based on who you follow, it’s also based on who and what you like.
The more they think you’ll “like” that post, the higher it appears in your feed. This is based on “past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.”
When a post receives a ton of likes and comments, this signals the Instagram algorithm that your post is quality, engaging content that more people will want to see.
That explains how viral content spreads so quickly on Instagram, but it doesn’t mean you need thousands of likes to get the Instagram algorithm working on your side.
You just need to focus on providing quality content your current, and future, audience will enjoy and want to engage with:
When Instagram first broke the news of the new algorithm last year, they commented, “The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post.”
They claimed that the change was to improve user experience and to prioritize the moments we care about the most.
With these changes, came a lot of challenges for brands and businesses looking to grow their engagement and following on Instagram. So if you’ve experienced a drop in your engagement, or a change in your posts’ reach, it could be to do with the Instagram algorithm.
But thankfully, there are ways to overcome it and get back on track!
Tip #1: Spend More Time Posting Consistently To Instagram
When you post consistently good content to Instagram, you’ll not only improve your engagement but it’s a signal to the algorithm that you’re a quality account!
And the more frequently and consistently you post, the more likely your audience will see and engage with your content.
When it comes to how often you should post, your ideal posting frequency will depend on you or your business’ goals and the amount of time you can dedicate to your Instagram marketing efforts.
Social media expert Neil Patel explains, “If you make a habit of posting several times a day and then transition to only a few times a week, you will start to lose followers and generate less engagement per post.
“This means that the best posting frequency for Instagram is the posting frequency that you can consistently maintain for the rest of your natural life.”
So it’s important to commit to a posting schedule that you can not only maintain, but also fits in with your workflow so you’re never compromising on quality or posting for the sake of it.
But don’t let that discourage you — even if you only decide to post once every 3 days, a smooth pattern of consistently good content will be rewarded.`
To help make sure you’re posting consistently, you’ll want to get acquainted with how to schedule your Instagram posts.
For example, with a free Instagram scheduler like Later, you can plan and schedule all of your photos, captions, and hashtags from the web.
This will save you a lot of time (and sanity), and leave you plenty of extra time to focus on other important areas of your Instagram marketing strategy.
PLUS: With an Instagram business profile, you can automatically publish posts to Instagram with Later’s new Auto Publish feature, no push notifications required!
Now you don’t have to interrupt your busy workday or stop what you’re doing to post to Instagram, just schedule your posts and let us do the rest.
#2: The Instagram Algorithm Determines Your Relationship with Followers
It’s now believed that Instagram not only prioritizes posts with high engagement, but may also restrict exposure based on your relationship with your followers.
If you comment on a lot of someone’s photos or are tagged in photos with them, this signals to Instagram that they probably fall into your “friends and family” category.
So both commenting on other profiles’ posts, and responding to your own comments and DMs, is super-important if you want to grow on Instagram.
Tip #2: Use Instagram Features Like Notifications and Facebook Page Manager
Treat comments like a conversation — you want to make sure you’re always replying and engaging with the comments on your feed to alert the algorithm you have a “relationship” with your follower. And if the comment doesn’t require a response, show them some love with a heart!
We know, keeping track of all your Instagram comments is hard. It’s easy to miss comments in the Instagram app, especially if someone is commenting on an older post.
Instagram continues to roll out new features that make it easier than ever to keep the conversation going with your audience.
A great way to make sure you’re staying on top of comments is to create more focused-notifications in your Instagram settings.
Just go to your account settings, navigate to “notifications” and select ‘Off’ for all options excluding ‘Comments’:
Now, your Instagram comments won’t get lost in the clutter so you can always make sure you’re responding promptly to your audience.
PLUS: you an finally reply to Instagram Direct Messages from your desktop!
With Facebook’s new unified Pages inbox, you’re able to respond to messages from both Facebook Messenger and Instagram!
With access to the new feature, you’ll see options for both “Messenger” and “Instagram Direct” when you open your Facebook Pages inbox.
Receiving a healthy influx of direct messages on Instagram and Facebook is a great indication that your audience is engaged with your brand and the content that you’re posting.
But splitting your attention between both Facebook and Instagram messaging platforms (and other platforms too!) can be time-consuming and difficult to monitor. Now, you’ll be able to quickly respond to comments and inquiries from a single location!
This is sure to speed up your workflow, facilitate better communication with your audience, and ultimately, drive more engagement!
Tip #3: Use Later to Keep Tabs On Your Instagram Comments
Later’s Conversations feature saves you time and can help you keep track of all your Instagram comments. You can reply from your computer instead of your phone, and even view your conversation history with a user.
To reply to an Instagram comment in Later, just select the comment, post, or Instagram user you’d like to respond to. Then enter your response, click the Reply button, and you’re done!
To get engagement, you have to give it. By replying to your comments, you’re not only showing your readers love, but you’re also increasing your chances of increasing your posts’ visibility.
Tip #4: Improve Relationships with a Consistent Instagram Brand and Aesthetic
If you engage with a particular account regularly, you’re telling Instagram that you like that account’s content.
This is probably why you see your best friend’s or favorite influencer’s Instagram posts at the top of your feed.
The same applies of you regularly engage with a brand on Instagram — their profile may be up there at the top of your feed list, with your friends’ and family’s posts too!
If you’re a brand and your followers are regularly liking, commenting, saving your content, or watching your Instagram Stories, your posts are more likely to be shown to them.
So it’s more important than ever to take the time to build a consistent Instagram brand and aesthetic. Followers are much more likely to convert into fans when they know exactly what they can expect from your feed, and continue to see the same consistent, quality content from your account.
By creating a consistent brand story through your Instagram aesthetic and account, you can turn those casual visitors into devoted, engaged followers.
Using a visual planner like Later’s makes it easy for you to drag and drop your images until you find the look and feel that you want.
Your future followers want to know exactly what to expect when they follow you, so it’s crucial you take the time to plan out the look of your Instagram feed before you post.
#3: The Instagram Algorithm Factors in Timeliness
Not only does the algorithm pay attention to how much engagement your Instagram post gets, it also how long ago the photo was posted.
Instagram’s algorithm is starting to care a lot more about when you posted, instead of just the content or engagement on the post, because it always want to serve you the latest, most interesting posts. This was brought up around the holidays last year when a lot of people were still seeing Christmas posts even though it was past New Year’s.
By finding your personalized best time to post on Instagram, you can hack the algorithm to increase your reach and get more likes and followers.
If you post at a time when most of your followers are online, you give yourself a better chance of racking up those likes — quickly!
Tip #5: Find Out When Your Audience Is Most Active
Using your Instagram Insights, you can use the Activity metrics to work out the times of the day when your audience is most active online:
But these peak times can often vary throughout the week — for example at weekends your audience might be most active in the mid-morning, while during the week it could be on their commute home or down-time after work.
But, every brand, business and target audience will behave differently, so it’s worth spending the time to find these optimum posting windows!
If you want to skip the math and instantly know when your best times to post on Instagram are, you can use Later to work it all out for you!
Later’s Best Time to Post feature automatically calculates your 7 top posting times based on how much engagement your posts have gotten historically.
Because this feature is built into Later’s Instagram scheduler, it’s a super easy to find out when you should schedule Instagram posts for maximum engagement.
If you’re on one of Later’s business plans, (which start at just $19/month) your best times to post will be highlighted in your weekly content calendar, making it super easy for you to automatically schedule Instagram posts for when your audience is most active!
While those are the top 3, the Instagram algorithm uses a lot of other factors to determine what to reveal to users:
#4: The Instagram Algorithm Uses Frequency to Sort Your Posts
How often do you open the Instagram app? If you’re a frequent scroller, your feed will look more “chronological” since Instagram tries to “show you the best posts since your last visit.”
If you check the Instagram app less often, then your feed will be sorted more to what Instagram thinks you’ll like, instead of chronologically.
#5: The Instagram Algorithm Keeps Tabs on Your Following
How many people do you follow on Instagram? If you follow a lot of people, then Instagram has more options to choose from, so you probably won’t see all of the posts from every account.
Tip #5: Use the Mute Button to Make Sure You Only See the Posts That Matter Most
If you don’t think your feed shows the accounts you want to see, this might be a good time to do an unfollowing spree! Or, you can now mute Instagram accounts, too.
As Engadget puts it, the feature sort of acts like a “soft unfollow.” When you mute an account, you can still see posts on their profile page and get notified about comments or posts you’re tagged in.
The accounts you mute also won’t know that you’ve muted them — and you can always unmute an account to get their posts back in your feed.
To mute an account, all you have to do is tap the ellipsis button (…) in the top-right corner of any post. If you have access to the feature, you should see a new “Mute” option.
Like the original mute Instagram Stories feature, the ability to hide posts from appearing on your feed gives you way more control over the content they see — and makes your feed even more personalized to what matters to you.
#6: The Instagram Algorithm Calculates Your App Usage
If you spend a lot of time on Instagram, you’re going to see more posts as Instagram “digs deeper into its catalog.”
However, if you only spend a few minutes in the app each day, then you’re going to just get the day’s highlights from the algorithm.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories, IGTV and the Explore Page
When discussing the Instagram algorithm, most people immediately think about the content showing up on their feed – however, the algorithm also determines what you see on the Explore page, in your Instagram Stories feed, and IGTV too!
Here’s how Instagram is working hard to make sure this content is tailored to you:
How the Instagram Algorithm Works for Instagram Stories
Typically, the Instagram Stories that appear closest to the beginning of the row on your home feed are from accounts that you engage with the most, whether that may be through the users posts or stories!
So no surprise here, the very top of Later’s Instagram Stories feed is our own @taylor.loren and @cameronu — both on our Marketing team, and profiles we’ve built “relationships” with on Instagram because we like, follow and engage with each other’s content!
The Instagram Stories algorithm also puts a lot of focus on timeliness as it wants to make sure it’s always showing you the latest stories from your favorite accounts. That why some accounts that post regularly enough, will always appear at the top of your feed if you watch and engage with them!
As you can see, the Instagram algorithm knows I’d like to see the latest from my favorite Instagram influencers (even if I’ve watched all their previous posts from the day!), Supergoop (I LOVE their products), and my IRL best friend (hi, Liz!).
And if you were ever wondering how Instagram ranks who’s viewed your Instagram stories, and why the accounts that appear top of your “viewed” list sometimes end up top of your stories feed, we have a blog post all about it!
Hint: it’s not who’s been stalking you!
Here are some tips to making sure your Instagram Stories content always appears top of your followers feeds:
Tip #1: Spend More Time Posting Consistently To Instagram Stories
As the Instagram algorithm continues to change and impact users’ engagement, it’s no surprise more and more users are spending time on Instagram Stories, rather than their feeds.
By posting to Instagram Stories more often, you have a better chance of appearing at the top of the stories feed on a follower’s homepage – giving you multiple chances throughout the day to be discovered!
Plus, this signals to the algorithm that you’re continuously posting quality content your audience is interested in.
Luckily, you can now schedule your Instagram Stories with Later so you never miss a chance to connect with your audience again!
Note: You can add links or captions to your scheduled stories, which will be copied to your phone when it’s time to post. This helps you drive more traffic and sales by taking the time to write compelling captions and CTAs from your desktop.
Ready to start posting Instagram Stories more often so there’s always new content for our audience to engage with? Start planning and scheduling your Instagram Stories with Later — available on all Later paid plans!
Tip #2: Experiment with all Instagram’s New Features
As frequent engagement and activity is favored by the Instagram algorithm, it makes sense that you would also be rewarded for using all of the platform’s features!
And seeing as the algorithm takes into account all the interactions — not just taps forward or back, but sticker interactions too like voting with Poll stickers or sending you a response with the Question sticker — the more that a user interacts with your stories, the more likely your posts will show up in their feed.
A great “hack” to harness the powers of the algorithm is to take advantage of Instagram Stories engagement opportunities, for example including the Poll sticker feature or “Swipe Up” option (if you have over 10k followers).
There have been a ton of new features added to Instagram Stories since its launch, such as a new Questions and Quiz stickers, new polls, and more. These fun features will help you spice up your Stories and let Instagram know you are a seasoned user, all while improving your engagement too!
Check out our blog post, 21 Ways to Get More Engagement on Instagram Stories to discover top tips for getting more views & boosting your Instagram Stories engagement!
Tip #3: Invite Users to Tap and Hold on Instagram Stories
While having captivating Instagram content will help keep your audience engaged from start to finish, Instagrammers are sharing more info and inviting users to ‘tap to hold’ the screen so viewers can fully digest what they’re sharing!
Best of all? This is a signal to the algorithm that a user is engaging with your post!
The “tap and hold” technique is a great way to keep eyes on your posts for longer, and get your audience to engage with your content.
If you’re looking for ways to catch your audience’s attention, try using cute Instagram stickers or GIFs to stop them in their tracks and keep them from swiping past your content.
How the Instagram Algorithm Works on IGTV
While IGTV is still relatively new, we’re still learning how the algorithm works, but we can expect it to be based on the same criteria as posts.
Instagram curates videos for you based on your interests and who you follow, and you can also watch trending videos on the “popular” channel! And just like you can with Instagram Stories, you can also share IGTV videos to your friends through Instagram Direct.
Right now, there’s 3 IGTV categories: For You, Following, and Popular.
- “For You” is a collection of videos that Instagram thinks you will like, made up from people you follow and Instagram’s own machine learning.
- “Following” is a collection of videos from all the people on Instagram that you’re already following. Which is a good time to mention that if someone follows you on IGTV, they’ll be following your regular Instagram account too!
- “Popular” features all of the trending videos on IGTV, most likely ranked by popularity
So how do you make sure your IGTV videos have a better chance of being seen by new (and existing) audiences?
Tip #1: Use the IGTV Preview In Your Posts to Boost Engagement
To get views on your videos, you had to use captions on regular posts, or link your video on your stories and actively direct your followers to click over to IGTV.
In an effort to fix this problem (and save IGTV), Instagram has introduced the option to share a 1-minute preview of your IGTV video to your Instagram feed!
This means, your IGTV videos will now live in the grid on your Instagram profile too, with a little IGTV icon in the right hand corner:
Now, if the preview in your feed gets tons of engagement, it will not only lead viewers to your video in IGTV, but also signal to the algorithm that you’re producing quality videos for IGTV for your audience, and that others might even like it too!
Check out our post, The Ultimate Guide to IGTV to learn more about optimizing your content on the platform and getting more views!
How the Instagram Algorithm Works on the Explore Page
The Instagram Explore page operates under its own algorithm, and Instagram has been working hard to make the page more personalized to each individual user.
Overall, the Explore page and the feed are mostly similar, delivering you content Instagram thinks you’ll be most interested in, based off your interactions.
When you tap to view your Instagram Explore page, it will look totally different than what may show up on your best friend’s Explore page, because it’s specifically tailored to help you find new content that you’ll enjoy, based on what you already like to see on Instagram.
Earlier this year, Instagram launched topic channels on Explore with the aim to give users a new way to discover content around their specific interests on Instagram.
The Instagram algorithm is constantly learning from your behaviors on the app, like what accounts you follow, what posts you like and comment on, and what Instagram Stories and IGTV content you love to watch.
Staring with a ‘For You’ channel (which has a mashup of posts tailored to your wider interests), you’ll then see channels on topics you might like, such as Art, Sports, Beauty or Fashion.
My personal Explore page dished up a “get ready with me” IGTV video (my latest obsession), health foods (I’m always looking for new recipes on Instagram) and some fashion and beauty-related posts — seems about right. It also includes some stories from users it thinks I may enjoy based on what kinds of content they post.
Luckily, getting your posts onto the Instagram Explore page isn’t rocket-science!
By optimizing your Instagram marketing strategy and making your posts algorithm-friendly by following the tips mentioned above, you’re continuously working to get on the Explore page too — especially if you’re using hashtags!
The hashtags results page also follows the Instagram algorithm rules listed above. If you’ve ever searched for a hashtag on Instagram, you’ll notice a grid of “top posts” that appear at the top of the results page.
Like the Explore page, these posts are selected based on several of the factors listed in this post, including engagement (how many likes and comments the post received), the popularity of the hashtag and how quick your post receives engagement. This will appear the same for every user searching a specific hashtag, while the Explore page is tailored to your individual interests.
Tip: If you’re a brand looking to get on the Instagram Explore page, it’s more important than ever to focus in on your niche topics and use hashtags to help categorize your posts!
Check out our post, The Ultimate Guide to Getting on the Instagram Explore Page to find out how you can get your content in front of new audiences!
Use Instagram Analytics to See What’s Working (and What Isn’t)
Now that you know how the Instagram algorithm works, it’s time to level-up your strategy by incorporating some of our tips, and tracking and monitoring how your content is performing on Instagram!
Taking on your Instagram strategy with 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 story performed best. Truly understanding how your content performs – by tracking key metrics over time – is key to knowing how you stand against the Instagram algorithm.
Instagram Insights, the app’s inbuilt analytics tool, gives you some great metrics and data on how your posts, stories and IGTV are performing. Just tap on the three lines in the top right-hand corner of your profile page and select Insights:
From here, you can navigate to your Content tab. To see how your individual posts and stories’ performance, you need to select each individual post to learn more about the metrics such as how many likes, comments, impressions or reach your post received:
If you’re looking to save time, Later Analytics pulls your Instagram performance to your Later dashboard so you can quickly and easily see your best performing content, as well as changes to your follower demographics and automatically calculates your engagement rates!
With Later’s new Instagram Analytics, you can learn more about how your posts are performing and discover which type of content gets the most Instagram engagement!
Optimize your Instagram content and grow your engagement by comparing which post types or photos are performing best, and applying those learnings to your Instagram strategy!
Plus, when it comes to Instagram Stories Analytics, you’ll be able to analyze up to 3 months’ worth of Instagram Stories data, instead of just a 2 week time period in the native Instagram app.
Upgrade to a Later paid plan for access to Instagram Stories analytics and all the other Analytics features, like automatically calculated engagement rates, audience demographic metrics, and Linkin.bio tracking.
Although the Instagram algorithm updates seem to be frequent, ever-changing (and often never announced!) it’s possible to stay on top of them by better understanding how they work.
Taking time to figure out exactly how the Instagram algorithm works will help your chances of “beating” it and driving more engagement on your posts.
This year, take the Instagram algorithm changes as an opportunity to creating deeper connections, produce high-quality content, and optimize your social media strategy!
Ready to jump-start your Instagram engagement? Later makes it easy for you to plan, manage, and schedule your Instagram posts!