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Understanding the Inner Workings of the Instagram Algorithm

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  • Understanding the Inner Workings of the Instagram Algorithm

As a content creator, you work hard to get seen by the right people on social media. But if your content isn’t showing up where it matters, your efforts don’t count.

Instagram has a variety of algorithms that could help you reach your target audience. Knowing how they work will help you create an effective social media strategy to expand your reach.

So, what factors do these algorithms look out for? Here’s everything you need to know about the inner workings of the Instagram algorithm.

What is the Instagram algorithm?

The Instagram algorithm is a set of rules determining which posts appear on a user’s feed. It considers various factors to personalize content feeds and prioritizes them based on each user’s interests and preferences.

The algorithm works by analyzing the content data on the platform and ranking it based on its perceived engagement, relevancy, and timeliness. In other words, the more likes, comments, and saves a post has, the higher it will be ranked by the algorithm, making it more visible to a broader audience.

The goal is to ensure that users have enjoyable experiences on the app and, ultimately, keep them coming back.

6 Key Factors that Influence the Instagram Algorithm

Now that you understand the Instagram algorithm, it’s time to learn how to influence it to your advantage.

Understanding the factors below can assist influencers, brands, and regular users in creating content that will likely perform well on the platform.

Let’s dive in!

Frequency of User Interaction

Every time users visit Instagram, they comment, like, save, or share posts. These interactions give Instagram algorithms clues about what to show them. If users interact with your content often, it signals to the algorithm that:

  • They are interested in what you’re sharing.
  • They want to see more of your content.
  • There is a relationship between your page and the user’s page.

As a creator on Instagram, you should consider these factors whenever you plan or post your content. You want to post content encouraging your followers to like, share or leave a comment.

Posting relevant content

You’re more likely to appear in a user’s Instagram feed if you post content that they find relevant. So, determine what relevant content means for your users before posting. To achieve this, observe Instagram profiles in your niche to see what they post and what resonates with them.

An easy way to discover this content is through hashtags. Just type in a hashtag, and you’ll get all the content posted on the platform with those hashtags.

For example, use the hashtag #drawing to identify relevant content if you run a coloring book business.

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Once you have an idea of the posts that use hashtags relevant to your niche, you can easily align the type of content you post to be relevant to your audience.

You should note that how you present a piece of content will also determine if your audience will consider the content relevant. Following a style guide that helps define your content across various digital platforms is advisable.

In 2020, Instagram upgraded its search functionality to help users find content through keywords. That means that the algorithm now pays attention to your captions, too. So ensure you also include relevant keywords in your post to help you show up where it matters.

You can use a keyword research tool or work with an SEO agency to determine the relevant keywords in your niche.

The time when you post

While the algorithm updates Instagram feeds based on interest, time is still essential. This is because Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes fresh and engaging content.

So, to retain Instagram followers and show up on users’ feeds, you must post at the appropriate time frequently. Determine when your users are active on Instagram and ensure your post is recent and published at the right time.

This also benefits you because the quicker the engagement, the higher the chance of others seeing the post, according to Instagram algorithms.

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As you can see, whether it’s likes, comments, shares, or any other type of engagement, the quicker your post gets engagements, the more likely it is to be seen by a larger audience.

Types of Followers

When users scroll through their Instagram feed, the algorithm shows them posts they should like or profiles to follow. These are suggestions based on other accounts they follow, whether personal or business accounts.

If these users connect with profiles that follow your page, there is an increased chance you’ll show up as a suggestion on those users’ feeds.

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To make this work in your favor, get people to follow your account so it is more likely to be suggested to their friends. Note that these should be people within your target audience. Don’t aim for random followers.

An excellent approach to this would be to collaborate with influencers or other users who have followers within your target audience. You can also opt for running Instagram Ads with the correct targeting to get your desired followers.

By doing this, you’re also laying the groundwork. The algorithm can learn from your existing followers and help you reach similar users.

Time spent on content

If users spend more time on your content, it will be among the posts they see often enough. That means you must create quality content engaging enough for users to stay on the content for a long time.

It’s recommended to use carousel posts—images or video slideshows that people can swipe through—to tell your brand story. That’s because carousel posts are interactive.

Instagram Reels can also help you showcase your creativity and brand’s uniqueness with short-form video content. These videos take a vertical format and last up to 60 seconds.

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For example, Stone and Strand, a jewelry brand, uses Instagram Reels to showcase their jewelry and share helpful tips and fun content with their followers.

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They also use carousel posts. In the above post, they share a blend of short videos and images showing off a particular jewelry set in a carousel post.

Consider adding a mix of carousels and Instagram Reels to create an exciting brand experience for your audience.

Extra reach with new features

Instagram is constantly rolling out features. The platform rewards frequent users of these new features with content visibility to encourage more people to use them.

So, use Instagram features like the custom link sticker, “add-yours” sticker, question sticker, or poll sticker. You can also create real-time buzz on your page with Instagram Live.

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A new feature you can also use is the collaborator tag. That allows you to co-author feed posts with partners or influencers. See above how the fashion brand @nike uses this tag to collaborate with their sister page @nikewomen.

You can also create an interactive bio by adding clickable links and tagging other accounts (this works if you have more than one brand account).

Instagram recently added a feature to pin posts on your profile grid. You can use this to show off content that you want new followers to see.

Finally, you can take advantage of the new Instagram ads feature. These ads appear in the users’ home feeds as they scroll through their Instagram accounts. The ads are customized considering the users’ preferences, targeting relevant and interested audiences.

For example, I saw this ad for Code Academy while going through this Instagram account.

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Other features for a wider reach include remix Reels, guides, interactive stickers on Reels, and pinned comments.

4 Proven strategies to make the Instagram algorithm work

The strategies discussed below will help you take full advantage of the Instagram algorithm. So, you’ll be able to generate new followers and create a lasting bond with your audience.

Post high-quality content consistently

Regular posting helps the algorithm recognize your account as active and show it to more users. At the same time, high-quality content provides value to your followers, boosting engagement and organic reach.

So, take the time to invest in high-quality photos and videos that catch the eyes of your audience at first glance. Additionally, ensure your captions are exciting and informative, helping to engage your followers and stimulate conversations.

Take, for example, Zendesk. The brand has a robust SaaS marketing strategy for Instagram. They share exclusive event insights and memorable moments to ignite your curiosity and encourage engagement.

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Generative AI tools like Ask Writer can be helpful for creating high-quality and engaging content for Instagram. These tools can help you produce content with more details, facts, and higher semantic richness at scale, resulting in more impactful and exciting posts.

Finally, create a content calendar to ensure your posts are consistent and aligned with your brand.

Encourage engagement

Engagement signals to the algorithm that your content is valuable and worth showing your followers.

The key to encouraging engagement is to create content that resonates with your audience and sparks conversations. Here are some practical tips that can help:

  • Use captions that ask questions or encourage participation
  • Use Instagram stories’ interactive features like polls, quizzes, and questions
  • Respond to comments and messages promptly to show your followers you value their opinion
  • Collaborate with other creators and tag them in your posts
  • Host giveaways or contests that require followers to engage with your content

However, focusing on long-term relationships is more critical than immediate likes and comments. So, instead of chasing the next viral hit, take the time to invest in your audience and gain the rewards in the long run.

Use relevant hashtags

Hashtags are not just helpful for finding content within your niche. They also help the algorithms. Hashtags help the algorithm determine what your post is about. If the algorithm knows your post, it’s easier to suggest it to the relevant audience.

In short, the right community hashtag will help you share experiences with an audience that needs your type of content. For instance, If you sell clothes, use hashtags such as #affordablefashion or #dressesonline that your target audience can discover when they come looking.

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Like this online store, you can include a variety of hashtags within your niche to increase the chances of your content being found by relevant people.

So, it’s essential to use relevant hashtags in your content. They help users discover content related to a specific topic or trend.

That said, using generic or irrelevant hashtags can lower engagement rates and hurt your account. It can lead to users unfollowing your account, as they will perceive your posts as spammy.

It’s a good idea to include a mix of popular and less popular hashtags in your content. Popular hashtags help increase the visibility of your posts, while less popular tags can help you rank higher in specific search results.

Post at optimal times

It’s also essential to pay attention to posting times for the best visibility of your content.

To do this, understand when your followers are most active on Instagram. This can vary depending on your industry, target audience, and location.

For example, according to HubSpot, you should publish at the hours listed below if you live in Los Angeles and your core audience is likewise in Los Angeles.

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Knowing this will help you post at the right time for your target audience to engage with your content.

You can use Instagram analytics to determine your posts’ best times. You can also use third-party tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to determine the best posting times. Here is an example from Sprout Analytics.

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Posting consistently at these times will increase the likelihood of your content appearing in your followers’ feeds. This will also increase your engagement and follower growth.

In Closing

Instagram is a fantastic platform to market your brand online. You get to share your unique brand story and connect with customers on a personal level. If you understand how the algorithm works, it will help you use Instagram effectively.

The Instagram algorithm looks at the frequency of user interaction, the content you post, the time you post, the types of followers you have, the time spent on your content, and the Instagram features you use.

Based on what you now know about the Instagram algorithm, some actionable steps will be to build interaction with your followers, post often at the right time, use relevant and compelling content, and use new features.

Follow these tips to help your brand gain more visibility on Instagram. Hopefully, that translates to more sales for you. Good luck!

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