The Instagram algorithm is the invisible force that governs the digital lives of millions, from celebrities to brand-new creators. If you can learn to navigate the intricate web of likes, comments, and shares, you'll have your content in front of new users, customers, and clients alike.
In this guide, we'll cover the primary factors that influence who sees your posts — interests, timelines, and relationships — as well as secondary factors that have an effect. Once you've unlocked the secrets behind the ever-changing algorithm, you can harness its power to put your content in front of the people who will benefit from it the most.
Table of Contents:
- What is the Instagram Algorithm?
- How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work in 2023?
- Changes to the Instagram Algorithm for 2023
- Mistakes To Avoid
- Tips To Make the Instagram Algorithm Work for You in 2023
What is the Instagram Algorithm?
The Instagram algorithm is the set of rules that Instagram uses to rank content. It determines what content appears in what order on each user's home feed, Reels, Explores results, and Stories.
The AI behind Instagram analyzes all aspects of the content posted, including metadata, such as hashtags, alt-text, and user engagement so it can show people more of what they like and new content it thinks they'll find engaging.
To complicate matters, each section of Instagram — the Feed, Reels, Stories, and Explore — all have separate algorithms. While Instagram is mostly mum on how rankings are decided, it uses a mix of information about content and users to make each person's Instagram experience the best it can be.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work in 2023?
Whenever you open Instagram, the algorithm automatically shows you the content it thinks you'll find most engaging. The goal is to keep you on the app as long as possible by hooking you with compelling content. While the specifics differ between each section of Instagram, the overarching themes are relevant for all. Understanding how the Instagram algorithm works and optimizing your content based on the guidelines will lead to more users seeing your posts.
Instagram is more likely to show your videos and pictures to people with a history of liking, saving, and interacting with similar content. People who regularly follow and consume health and wellness content will see your content before people who follow mostly classic car accounts. This is why it's essential to help Instagram understand what type of content you're creating.
Instagram prioritizes relationships. If you and another user follow each other, like each other's posts, and frequently exchange comments, you'll see each other's posts first. But you need to do more than post great content. You need to engage with your followers, too. Interacting with your followers' content, responding to their comments, and quickly responding to DMs can all improve your Instagram visibility.
Instagram prioritizes more recent content. Specifically, it ranks posts created since the user's last login, according to Instagram insiders. Unlike platforms like Pinterest, which will display content years after creation, you won't get much traction on an Instagram post if it's not extremely recent.
Relevancy is a broad category that encompasses where your content fits in trending topics, how many people have liked it, when it was posted, the location attached to it, and the length of videos.
Instagram uses thousands of "signals" to predict what you'd like to see. These signals include data points like how long you spend watching a video, whether you're using a phone or computer, what time the post was shared, who posted, and whether you commented.
Instagram Algorithm for Reels
Reels are full-screen vertical videos. You can record Reels that are up to 90 seconds long directly from the app, or you can upload Reels that are up to 15 minutes long. You can use the in-app editing features such as filters, captions, stickers, interactive backgrounds, and an extensive collection of audio files when creating Reels.
With Reels, Instagram will show you a mix of content from people you follow and people you don't — making it a great way to reach new people. The good news is that smaller creators are also likely to show up in Reels. The primary goal of reels is to show users content they're likely to watch to the end.
To rank your Reels, Instagram analyzes signals in the following order:
- Activity: Users who have commented on, liked, and engaged with similar content will be shown your Reels first.
- Interactions: While Reels are designed to expose people to new creators, you'll be prioritized if they've engaged with your content before.
- Content: High-quality, recent, and popular content will rank higher.
- Creator: Although smaller creators have a better shot in Reels than anywhere else, more popular accounts are still given more weight.
Instagram Algorithm for Stories
Instagram primarily shows you Stories from people you follow — so you'll see Stories from your inner circle first. Since Stories disappear after 24 hours, timeliness is already factored into them.
The Instagram algorithm considers the following signals in order of importance for surfacing content:
- The Story: Popular Stories are prioritized. The length of your Story also matters. Although long and short videos can perform well, people are more likely to click away from longer videos. It's a good idea to keep it short unless you have a compelling reason to make it longer. Stories that are technically good and in the right format (vertical) will also rank higher.
- The creator: People who follow you will see your Stories more often. You'll also rank higher if your account is more popular.
- User activity and interaction: People who engage with your content and similar content are more likely to see your Stories.
Instagram used to give less weight to Stories that were first shared in feeds, but this is no longer the case.
Instagram Algorithm for the Feed
As with Stories, Instagram prioritizes posts from people you follow in your feed. Decision-makers have publicly stated that they know people want to see posts from people they follow in their feeds. They'll show some ads, but if you want to appear organically in people's feeds, you'll need them to follow you.
The feed algorithm looks at the same signals as it does for Stories. The people who will see your content first in their feed are those who Instagram thinks will take action on it, such as liking it, saving it, or commenting on it.
You'll also have to work harder to show up higher in the feeds of people who follow a lot of accounts. If one of your followers follows only 30 other accounts, they'll see your content much more often than one who follows 3000 accounts. However, as long as they engage with you regularly, you'll still rank highly.
Instagram Algorithm for Explore
Like Reels, Explore is designed to help people find new content. If a person has liked a lot of health and wellness videos in the past, their Explore feed will probably be filled with more. The main factor in ranking high in Explore is popularity. Instagram analyzes signals such as how many people take action on a post and how quickly.
The factors that help you rank higher in Reels will help you in Explore. Focus on creating technically good content that will encourage people to interact with you.
Changes to the Instagram Algorithm for 2023
In 2022, Instagram heavily prioritized video content. However, that changed in 2023, and Instagram is now equally focused on photos and videos, showing new content, and favoring content that inspires conversations. Although it can be pull-your-hair-out frustrating to have the rules change once you've mastered them, the fact that Instagram's algorithm is constantly changing is what makes it so compelling to users. As a content creator, you need to keep an open mind and be willing to embrace new features.
Instagram wants to be a platform where people can discover something new every time they log on, which is good news for you and your content. You can also expect comments to be more heavily weighted in 2023. Creating content that gets people talking will be more important than ever. Instagram is looking to appeal to users of TikTok and BeReal while also going a step beyond by encouraging engagement.
Mistakes To Avoid
Some issues will negatively affect your performance in all sections of Instagram. Make sure you avoid the following mistakes in all of your content.
Violating Community Guidelines
Instagram has both community guidelines and recommendations guidelines. Community guidelines are primarily to keep the community a safe and respectful place, and it's worth reviewing them.
The recommendations guidelines primarily apply to Explore and Reels because people haven't sought out content from these creators. Instagram tries to avoid showing content that could be upsetting, sensitive, or offensive in Explore. It also avoids pushing inappropriate content to minors, such as vaping or smoking. If you're hoping to rank highly in Explore, make sure your content is G-rated.
If third-party fact-checkers determine your content shares misinformation, Instagram will rank it lower and apply a label. If enough of your content is labeled as misinformation, all of your content will rank lower.
Posting Poor Quality Content
Videos that are blurry or grainy or captions riddled with typos won't rank highly. Instagram also avoids recommending watermarked videos or videos with borders. For best results, your videos should be in a vertical 16:9 ratio and of good technical quality.
Tips To Make the Instagram Algorithm Work for You in 2023
The following tips will help you rank higher and grow your account no matter what type of content you're creating.
Be an Early Adopter
Reels are the Instagram darling right now, but something new may roll out soon. Whenever a new feature is released, Instagram will favor content that uses it. Don't hesitate to jump on the bandwagon when you see a hot new trend.
Focus on Relationships
Try building relationships with your followers by encouraging conversations. Time your posts for when your followers are most active and respond to comments quickly. You can also encourage people to engage with your content by:
- Asking your audience questions
- Posting trivia or little-known facts about your niche
- Encouraging your followers to tag a friend
- Using interactive elements in your Stories
- Commenting on your followers' content
Start by posting once or twice daily. From there, you can experiment with posting more and see how that affects your reach. Instagram doesn't penalize you for posting too often, but it won't show your followers all your posts in order to avoid displaying too much of the same content.
Create a Variety of Original Content
Although Reels are probably the most valuable type of content on Instagram right now, posting a variety of content will help you cover all of your bases and increase your reach. Stories help you stay at the top of your followers' feeds, and photos are being reprioritized in home feeds. Carousels are still a great option to increase engagement and keep people interacting with your account.
Use Hashtags and Keywords
Keywords are now searchable on Instagram, so include some target keywords in your captions. But avoid keyword stuffing, as it detracts from your authenticity. Use keywords in your alt text and bio as well.
Even though a lot has changed with the Instagram algorithm, a good hashtag strategy is still valuable. Use Explore to find hashtags that are relevant to your niche. Choose specific hashtags rather than general ones. For example, use a hashtag related to a service you provide rather than just #wellness.
Include Your Location
Including your location will help people find you, which is particularly important if your business has a physical location. You can even create a custom location for your business. You'll need to go through Facebook, but it's a simple process:
- Create a post on Facebook and click "Check In."
- Let Facebook use your location.
- In the search bar, type in the name of your location.
- Click on + Add to create your new location.
- Add the details and save.
- Your new location will be available on Instagram.
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