This is How the TikTok Algorithm Works

By Molly Mc Glew

Published June 23, 2021

14 minute read

Want to get to know the TikTok algorithm? And more importantly how to use it to your advantage for viral growth? Keep reading, as we reveal all in this blog post.


Stay on top of the biggest social media marketing trends!

The TikTok algorithm may seem complex and mysterious — but TikTok has revealed exactly how it works!

From what hashtags you use, to your location, music choices, and even the very first TikTok video you liked — they can all influence the TikTok algorithm.

In this blog post, we’re sharing everything we know about the TikTok algorithm and how you can start using it your advantage:

How the TikTok Algorithm Works

TikTok shared exactly how the #ForYou feed is calibrated and personalized to each account in a press release last year.

Previously, we could only assume the For You page appeared to be a curated feed, pulling videos related to your profile, location, and similar videos you’ve already liked and engaged with.

But now, we have concrete facts from TikTok on how the For You page reflects preferences unique to each user.

According to TikTok: “The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors — starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too”.

These factors include things like:

  1. User interactions: such as the videos you like or share, accounts you follow, comments you post, and content you create.

  2. Video information: this includes details like captions, sounds, and hashtags.

  3. Device and account settings: like your language preference, country setting, and device type.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Each of these factors is individually weighted by TikTok’s For You recommendation system, which means each For You page will be completely unique to a user and their level of interest.

For example, TikTok explains that a strong indicator of interest could be if a user finishes watching a video from beginning to end.

This would receive greater weight than a weak indicator, such as whether the video’s viewer and creator are both in the same country.

From these “indicators of interest,” For You page videos are then ranked based on the likelihood of a user’s interest in a piece of content.

But what about the question on everyone’s minds, “do I need thousands of followers to go viral on TikTok?” In short, the answer is no.

TikTok explained that while a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers (by virtue of having a larger follower base), “neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system.”

So even if you only have a handful of followers, or have never posted to TikTok before, there’s still an opportunity for your video to appear on the For You page.

**Take your TikTok strategy to the next level. Plan and schedule your TikTok content in advance with Later:**

How to Personalize Your For You Page

Now that we know how TikTok decides what appears on your For You page, we can explore how to personalize it.

TikTok is a platform for discovery — so even if you only follow five accounts, you can still spend hours scrolling through videos (trust us, it can happen!).

To help you get the most out of your TikTok profile, take action to make sure your For You page is always delivering content that you’re interested in.

Here are some tips from TikTok on how to personalize your For You page:

  • Step #1: Get started on TikTok by selecting categories that interest you — like pets, travel, beauty, sports, etc. This will allow TikTok to create their first version of your For You page feed.

  • Step #2: Find more of what you’re interested in by engaging with content that you actually enjoy. It’s worth liking content, following new accounts, and exploring hashtags, to help tailor your TikTok experience.

  • Step #3: If you come across something that’s not quite to your liking, you can simply long-press on a video and tap “Not Interested” to indicate that you don’t care for a particular video.

All these actions contribute to future recommendations in your For You page feed, helping to create a perfectly personalized feed!

What Factors Influence the TikTok Algorithm

If you’re a brand, business, or creator on TikTok, chances are you’d like to get more views, likes, and comments on your content.

After all, the more eyes on your videos, the more opportunity you have to engage with your TikTok audience and boost your brand’s visibility.

The key to getting more engagement on your videos is working with the TikTok algorithm to get your content on as many For You page feeds as possible.

But getting a coveted spot on the For You page takes a lot more than just adding #fyp to your caption.

To help you create the best content, and get more limelight on the TikTok feed, here are the top six factors that influence the TikTok algorithm:

TikTok Algorithm Factor #1**: Hashtags**

As we mentioned, the For You page is where users aim to land in order to hit the TikTok lottery.

You’re likely to see the following hashtags #Foryou, #ForYouPage, and #FYP on viral TikTok content. But based on TikTok’s statement on the algorithm, including one of these hashtags doesn’t guarantee a spot on the For You page.

Knowing exactly what hashtag is best in terms of optimizing your content for the FYP is still relatively mysterious.

By tapping the Discover Tab, you can find trending hashtags, as well as typing them out if you want to check a hashtag’s performance.

Looking for hashtags that are getting a lot of traction right now? Keep an eye out for fire icons next to the hashtags and incorporate that hashtag into your captain, if the content aligns.

TikTok lets users know how many views each hashtag gains. And while these numbers can look intimidating — especially if they’re in the millions — they also prove what content is favored.

Hashtag insights serve as a road map that users can tap into, such as the latest #tellmewithouttellingme challenge, #shoppingspree, and #bucketlist hashtags, all prioritized by TikTok.

TIP: Research what hashtags are trending right now and see if your brand can create content to take part!

But be cautious — jumping on a hashtag just because it’s trending may seem like a good idea, but if the hashtag is completely unrelated to the content in your video, it could backfire.

Always find relatable hashtags that will help users discover your content and inform the TikTok algorithm what you’re all about!

Want to learn more about TikTok hashtags? We jump into the details in this blog post!

TikTok Algorithm Factor #2: TikTok Captions

Unlike long-form captions on Instagram and Facebook, TikTok is not the place to share an essay.

The ideal caption for TikTok should be short, feature relevant hashtags, and digestible to the content you’re sharing.

TikTok is a mobile-first video platform, so keeping copy short and snappy tends to yield better results.

To make your captions more engaging consider asking a question, using a joke, or adding a touch mysterious to the copy with a part 1 series strategy.

These themes tend to perform well, especially for influencers on the platform.

When it comes to boosting engagement, being able to lead a conversation in your comments really pays off.

Your video’s top comments will have a prime spot at the top of your comments list, which means you could spark even more conversation as people will notice comments on your video as they scroll through TikTok.

TikTok Algorithm Factor #3: Trending Songs & Sounds

Like hashtags, TikTok’s music and sounds play a major part in your content’s discoverability.

The good news: using a trending song at the right time can mean a quick bump in likes and views!

But unlike TikTok’s Discover tab, TikTok’s Sounds are not as easily accessible as a tap of a tab. Unless you’re actively consuming video or creating one yourself within the app, you need to be a little more stealth in finding what music and sounds are getting the most traction.

Here’s how you can find trending music (and save music for later):

  • **Sounds in Video Editor:** To find new, trending, and popular sounds on TikTok, you’ll need to go into TikTok’s video editor. Press the plus icon at the bottom of the screen, tap “Sounds”, and now you can scroll through what’s trending!

  • **Favorites:** Similar to “Saves” on Instagram, favoriting a sound collects it for you in one handy spot. If you like a sound and want to use it in the future, tap on the sound under the username and tap “Add to Favorites” — it’ll come in clutch when you need it most.

  • Sounds Your Followers Listened to: To find the top sounds your audience has listened to in the last seven days go to your Analytics tab (only accessible for TikTok Pro accounts) and under the Followers tab, scroll down to see the music your audience is vibing to!

TikTok Algorithm Factor #4: When Your Audience is Most Active

Posting content when your audience is most active is a sure way to get your content seen. And, thanks to TikTok’s Pro Accounts, you can tap into some juicy audience analytics.

TikTok analytics may not be as in-depth as Instagram analytics, but don’t be fooled! TikTok gives you a ton of useful information to help you gain a better understanding of your personal best time to post.

Knowing when your audience is live is a great starting point. To help you find your personalized best time to post on TikTok for your brand and business, we’re covering everything you need to know in this blog post.

Why Some TikTok Videos go Viral (and Others are Slow Burners!)

Many people have seen or heard of the “slow burn” phenomenon on TikTok — when something is posted, barely gets any engagement or reach, and then suddenly pops off on TikTok.

This timing could be 48-hours after posting or weeks later, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.

For now, we can assume that while videos slowly gain likes, comments, and views, the TikTok algorithm may push your video onto the For You page, even if it’s not a brand new video.

Or, a sound could suddenly get a lot of exposure, based on someone else’s video going viral, and your video that features the same sounds could get a little bump.

So even though you might not get an initial huge reaction, it’s worth waiting and keeping an eye on your video for weeks, and even months after you’ve posted.

Ready to level-up your TikTok strategy? for TikTok turns your TikTok feed into a clickable, mobile-optimized landing page — get started today!

TikTok Algorithm Factor #5: Video Content & Editing

There’s no denying that TikTok’s video style is unique — it’s a place where creativity flows and you can represent your brand any way you like.

Having a solid video strategy that captivates viewers and triggers re-watches and shares is key for success.

Which is why TikTok videos with a seamless loop can potentially be a trigger for the algorithm.

It’s worth thinking about videos you’ve watched three times in a row, or clips you keep coming back to — these are the videos that really grab an audience’s attention and the algorithm could reward you for it.

This type of content is something TikTok is very likely monitoring, serving more of the content users are gravitating towards. It could be machine learning over personal preference that determines whether a video goes viral or not.

Once you have a great video concept, it’s worth spending some time editing your TikTok video to make the format even more engaging for viewers.

Take your TikTok strategy up a notch by watching our free 30-minute video on how to use TikTok for business:

TikTok Algorithm Factor #6: Location

TikTok profile location is something we’re investigating at Later. We’re predicting TikTok is going to serve hyper-local content to viewers to make a more community-oriented feed.

While the Later team is scattered around the world, we’re all posting to the same TikTok account — that’s why you’ll see so many faces on our TikTok page!

“Location is definitely a key factor in what videos get recommended to users on their For You pages. Having a global team has really allowed us to explore and confirm patterns in how we’re served location-based content.

Because of this, there’s a lot of potential for smaller businesses to benefit from being on TikTok to really increase brand awareness – especially if they’re trying to reach Gen Z and Millennials. ” – Lindsay Ashcraft, Social Media Coordinator at Later.

Although location is a small variable for the TikTok algorithm, there’s no denying that users have started to see (and engage!) with content that was posted closest to them.

It’s an interesting thought and one to watch for the future of the TikTok algorithm.

How to Hack the TikTok Algorithm and Get on TikTok’s For You Page

We can only assume that the TikTok algorithm is always growing, changing, and learning from our behaviors on the app.

While there’s no definitive formula for hacking the algorithm, there are a few other factors that we think could be influencing video performance and your follower growth!

TikTok Algorithm Tip #1: Post Consistently

Some have said it’s a good idea to flood your TikTok feed with anything and everything because quantity trumps quality as the app is still growing in popularity.

But others have noted 1-2 posts a day is the sweet spot.

While we certainly are in the camp of making the best content you can, TikTok is a tool to test new content, try new videos, and consistently post if you do want to grow your account.

Our advice would be to start experimenting with your content, be brave with new formats, and try to build a cadence of posting without worrying too much about aesthetics (for now!).

ICYMI: You can now plan your TikTok posting strategy alongside your other social channels in Later. When it’s time to post, you’ll get a notification with your video and caption ready to go!

TikTok Algorithm Tip #2: Experiment with TikTok Duets

If you’ve spent any time on TikTok, you’ve likely scrolled past Duets. They’re side-by-side videos, one side being the original creator and the other being a TikTok user.

Duets are a great way to increase engagement — the more duets your video gets, the wider net you cast.

Creating a Duet challenge for your audience is also a smart way to increase and collect user-generated content. For example, create a dance or challenge and ask your followers to duet with you in the caption!

Want to create your own Duet? Watch our quick guide to using the Duet feature on TikTok:

TikTok Algorithm Tip #3: Embrace New Features

We did say TikTok was all about experimentation so being a “beta” user for new tools rolling out could play a role in getting more engagement on your videos. Especially as TikTok highlights what tools and features you’re using to edit your video when you post.

One example is the new voice-over feature — essentially allowing the next wave of podcasters and vloggers to find a space for their content on TikTok.

Keep your eye out for new feature releases, you may want to try them out to gain more visibility!

TikTok Algorithm Tip #4: Create Content Geared Towards a High Completion Rate

Another theory is that shorter videos of 10 to 15 seconds perform better on the app as their completion rate will be much higher.

With shorter videos, viewers will most likely watch till the end (or even multiple times) which is a good signal to the algorithm that people are enjoying the content and it should be shared more often!

With TikTok moving at the speed of light with more and more brands, businesses, and influencers joining the platform, it’s fascinating to see how the space will evolve as time goes on.

And while TikTok still has a reputation of being the “wild west” of all the social networking platforms, its anything-goes nature is a great opportunity for brands to start thinking outside the box and make new, exciting content for their followers.

Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you use the TikTok algorithm to your advantage and start to see some real traction on your posts!

With TikTok Planning and Scheduling by Later, you can visually plan your TikTok content in advance – along with all of your other social content!

Stay on top of the biggest social media marketing trends!


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