five key factors of instagram’s new algorithm

We know how much everyone hates the new Instagram algorithm. (We do too.)

It’s 2018 and Instagram has been rolling out a lot of changes to how content creators’ posts are ranked. Nowadays, if you want to get ahead as a small business on Instagram or as an influencer, you have to hustle to get noticed. That’s just how it is, and it doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon.

Want to know how the new Instagram algorithm works? In the following post, you’ll learn what the deciding factors are and what to do to start appearing on your followers’ feeds more often.


#1: how does this new algorithm work?


This is a mystery everyone wants to solve. How does this new algorithm work? While we don’t fully understand the specifics of what makes the new Instagram tick, we do know 7 factors that determine how your post will perform and how many people will see it.

According to an Instagram spokesperson, here is a list of 7 factors that affect how your posts perform on Instagram. We’ve listed these 7 factors in order of importance, based off our own research and information gathered from social media managers and content creators. Enjoy!


1. how much engagement you receive


In general, posts with a high volume of engagement (likes, comments, shares, views, etc.) will rank higher on your Instagram feed. When a post receives a high volume of engagement such as likes and comments, this signals the Instagram algorithm that your post is a high-quality, engaging post that more people will want to see, so the Instagram algorithm will show it to more users. The same goes for if your post receives little to no engagement, resulting in less exposure.

It also isn’t always about how much engagement a post receives. In most cases, the Instagram algorithm cares more about how quickly a post receives engagement. One of the best known cases of this is trending Instagram hashtags. Although the amount of engagement you receive is very important, it’s slightly less important how quick you get that engagement.

This is why finding the best times to post is important to increase the amount of engagement for your posts. If you post when the greatest amount of people will see it, you increase your chances of getting more likes, quicker, which then helps boost your post in the algorithm.


2. how long people spend viewing your post


Facebook’s algorithm tracks the length of time you spend interacting with content. It’s no different with Facebook’s younger sibling. Instagram’s algorithm uses the amount of time spent viewing a post as a key factor in determining how much of a boost your post will receive.

If you want to beat the Instagram algorithm, creating elegant captions is just the key. If you have an engaging and attractive caption, people are more likely to actually read it or scroll through your account’s Instagram feed, which increases the time spent on your post. Once you captivate people’s attention on your account, it will lead to more engagement and exposure.

This is also why videos in general perform very well in the Instagram algorithm: because it takes more time to watch videos! Slideshow posts with a call-to-action to “swipe” to view more is also a good strategy as well to attract more attention to your post which will result in better engagement.


3.  your friends, family, and favorite accounts


Don’t get fooled! The Instagram algorithm is smarter than you think. If you engage with a particular account regularly, you are telling Instagram that you really like that account’s content. As a result of this, Instagram will show you more of that person’s content on your feed whenever you open Instagram! This is probably why you see your mom’s Instagram posts at the very top of your feed even though she has only 8 followers and a few likes for each photo!

Same rule applies for people who love your content: if they are regularly liking, commenting, engaging, and watching your Instagram Stories, or saving your posts, your posts are more likely to be displayed to them the next time they open Instagram.


4. when you posted


Another factor that the Instagram algorithm takes into consideration is the timeliness of a post, aka when it was posted. The Instagram algorithm is more likely to show you more recent posts rather than posts from weeks or even months ago – however this isn’t always the case.

It entirely depends on how often you browse on Instagram. If you only open Instagram a few times a week, you’re more likely to see popular posts from a few days ago to catch you up on any good content that you missed. If you’re an Instagram-savvy user, you’re likely to see more posts from weeks ago. It all falls down on your overall activity on Instagram.

In general, Instagram posts today have a longer half-life than they used to, meaning more people can still see your posts over a longer period of time. This is why you’re probably still receiving likes from a post that you posted the day before yesterday or even up to a week ago!


5. quality of content


If the only factor the Instagram algorithm based itself off of was engagement, then we’d all see the same content over and over again! Luckily for us, the type of content you engage with plays a huge role in the content you will continue to see on your feed.

Have you ever noticed that if you started engaging with a bunch of accounts in a certain niche (sports, food, trucks), Instagram will begin showing you more posts related to the accounts you followed? This is the relevancy factor at play. If Instagram determines you like a certain type of content, such as Ford Mustangs, it will do its best to show you very similar content that it thinks you will also find interesting, like posts from Ford or Chevrolet. The same applies to accounts you search for or follow.


6. if you’ve searched for the account


It may sound weird, but another factor that Instagram takes into deep consideration is what accounts you’ve searched for. When you search for an account, Instagram takes this as a sign that you enjoy that account’s content and they do their best to show you more of that account’s content or a similar account’s content in your Instagram feed. Try searching for a few cooking accounts. It’s likely the following morning you’ll wake up to an Explore page full of cooking videos. The same goes for any other account you search for on Instagram.


7. sharing your post in dm’s


There’s no way to track how many times your Instagram posts have been shared through Direct Message. Instagram’s keeping track though, that’s for sure.

When you share posts with another user, Instagram counts this is as a form of engagement. Instagram then determines that you enjoy that account’s content. So if you are striving to create beautiful, awesome engaging content that people are sharing with their friends and family, then your posts are bound to perform better on Instagram.

Even though there’s no way to tell how many times your Instagram post has been shared in a direct message with someone, Instagram is still keeping track.


#2: it’s important to optimize your posts for the instagram algorithm


Back during the simpler times of early 2016, small business owners and influencers did not have to worry about strategizing to get maximum engagement with the algorithm. The Instagram feed was in chronological order, so you could get by just by posting consistently. Nowadays, that’s no longer the case. If you want to be successful on Instagram, you have to optimize for Instagram’s algorithm. There’s no easy way around it.

The Social Media Manager of today has to be extremely diligent: Is the call-to-action in your post strong enough? Did you use correct and relevant hashtags? Are you posting at peak activity times? Is your Instagram feed attractive as a whole? Small businesses and influencers are under more pressure than ever to create original, compelling content to engage with their followers in new unique and creative ways.

It’s a lot of work, but the stakes are a lot higher too. People don’t casually browse their feeds anymore. People use Instagram as a tool to make an informed decision on wether or not to purchase your good or service. In fact, according to a recent study, 78% of consumers make purchasing decisions are influenced by a brand’s Instagram feed. Take notes, business owners!

Success on Instagram today means a lot more than just building a large following. It can also generate sales, lead generation, and customer acquisition. Instagram can unlock a lot of opportunities for your business. All it takes is knowing how to work with Instagram’s algorithm, not against it.


#3: how to beat the instagram algorithm


As organic reach continues to drop on Instagram, there are users that are trying to research and learn new ways to “beat” Instagram’s new algorithm in order to get ahead of the curve and soar above their competitors and niche in terms of engagement and followers. No matter what tricks or secrets you think you may have, you won’t be able to beat Instagram’s algorithm. (Unless you’re Zuckerberg, of course.)


1. post when your audience is most active


The best way to generate engagement is to schedule your Instagram posts for a time and day when your audience is most active on Instagram. The reason behind this is that Instagram’s algorithm gives higher priority to posts with better engagement, meaning that the more likes and comments that your post receives, the more people will see your post.

If you post during a time when your audience is most active, you’re more likely to drive engagement to that post. This is why scheduling your future Instagram posts is vital to your overall Instagram strategy.

If you’ve set up your Business Profile on Instagram, you can find out what times your followers are most active. Just go to “Insights” and track what times your followers are most active. Using data from your account’s Insights, you can optimize to post when your followers are most active. This will likely result in an increase in engagement for your account.


2. add a cta to your instagram captions


The simple act of requesting that your audience engage or react on your post can go a long way. Requesting your audience to engage can help boost your account’s engagement. This can be asking your followers to like, comment and share.

This is why we can’t stress enough the importance of including a call-to-action to your posts. It’s a great way to get your followers to engage with your post and leave a comment. Adding a CTA to your posts can go a long way to optimize for better engagement.

Here’s one way you can put the algorithm to the test: run a giveaway. All your followers need to do is like, comment and share to participate. This will result in an increase in engagement as well as bring in more attention to your business. You’ll likely see a spike in account activity too in your Insights. This can be more profile visits, website clicks, emails, phone calls, etc. Who doesn’t want more website clicks and phone calls? Exactly. So run that giveaway and let us know how it went!


3. create an instagram hashtag strategy


Having a solid set of Instagram hashtags is an essential component for any Instagram marketing campaign. It should be a top priority for businesses that want to get more engagement as well. Better hashtags means better engagement!

Find which hashtags your audience uses the most, and search for posts that use that same hashtag. Once you find some, like and comment on those posts to engage within your community. You never know, you might even find an influencer in your own niche to partner up with.


#4: not all types of engagement are created equal in the instagram algorithm


Likes, comments, shares… all of these are important, but are they equally important? Nope. According to several sources, Instagram’s algorithm ranks comments and shares higher than likes.

It is difficult to quantify this, but from a business perspective it makes perfect sense. Liking a post takes very little to no effort, whereas commenting and sharing requires more effort. To comment, you have to tap the comment button, think of what to write, and click “Post.” To share, you have to tap the Send button and choose who you want to share the post with. Instagram puts priority over comments and shares because of this.

In other words, both comments and shares are better indicators of good engagement. While likes are still important, you should optimize to receive the most comments and shares as possible!


#5: how the instagram algorithm works for explore and instagram stories


In most cases, when people think and talk about the Instagram algorithm, they’re talking about content on their feeds. This is only one example of the algorithm!

The Instagram Explore Page operates under its very own algorithm. According to Instagram “posts are selected automatically based on things like the people you follow or the posts you like.” You can also see video tabs on the Explore page. This can include posts “from a mixture of hand-picked and automatically sourced accounts based on topics we think you’ll enjoy.” So in many ways, the feed and Explore Page algorithms are a lot alike. The content you see is essentially an aggregation of posts that Instagram thinks you’ll like based on your behavior.

Even your Instagram Stories that appear at the top of your feed are ordered by an algorithm! For the most part, Stories that appear closest to the beginning of the row are from accounts you engage with the most. Stories that appear at the end of the row are accounts you rarely engage with.

About the author

Luis Marrero

I have built and sold several eCom and B2C businesses over the past five years which was a stepping stone into creating a full-service SEO agency servicing medium to large sized companies, including multiple Fortune 500s and government agencies. In my spare time, you can find me rebuilding 6.2L V8 NA engines by Mercedes-AMG.

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