The Instagram algorithm — it’s the bane of many content creators. One minute, you think you have your Instagram game figured out, and the next you’re suddenly not getting any traction. That’s when a lot of creators will shake their fists at the sky cursing the algorithm. But is the Instagram algorithm really an enemy that you need to conquer? How does it even work anyway?
Below, we dive into how the Instagram algorithm works, and how you can turn it into your strongest ally.
What is the Instagram algorithm?
When people talk about “the Instagram algorithm,” they’re referring to a system that picks and chooses the content that’ll show up in front of IG users. Depending on who you ask, the Instagram algorithm might suppress content that doesn’t follow a particular political leaning, push popular influencers over new up-and-comers, or even completely block some creators from reaching their potential audience without them knowing.
In short, there’s a cacophony of voices ready to blame the algorithm for just about anything. But how true is that?
Well, thanks to a recent article published on the Instagram blog, we can debunk some of these misconceptions.
First off, according to head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, there’s no single “algorithm.” So, if you’re going to talk about “the Instagram algorithm,” know that you’re referring to a combination of multiple algorithms and processes that work together to rank content throughout the platform. That’s right, there are different algorithms for your Instagram feed, Reels, Stories, and Explore page.
However, while each part of Instagram is ruled by a different algorithm, there are some driving factors that are common to all of them.
What are the key factors influencing the Instagram algorithm?
Depending on where they are in the app, Instagram will show users content from accounts they follow, accounts it thinks they’ll want to follow, and sponsored content like ads.
The app uses what it calls “signals” to rank this content, whether that’s your feed posts, posts on your Explore page, or even Stories. These signals are weighed a bit differently depending on where you are in the app (more on that in a minute). However, many of them have an impact pretty much everywhere on platform.
These signals include:
One of the main factors influencing Instagram’s algorithms is an individual user’s preferences. The kind of content they consume will have a big impact on what their feed looks like. After all, Instagram wants to keep showing them content they’re going to like.
When it comes to ranking content — both from followed accounts and recommended accounts — the way that content is already performing affects where it’s going to show up.
For example, a post that already has a good amount of likes and comments will rank higher than one that doesn’t.
Instagram doesn’t just consider how a specific piece of content is performing, but how the associated account is doing, too.
Popularity is a big signal for Instagram’s algorithms. And that refers to both the number of followers an account has, and how much engagement its content gets.
Relationship between the user and creator
If an Instagram user is already following you, then they’re more likely to see your content throughout the platform. But that’s not the only way you can give your content a boost in the algorithm. If you’ve already interacted with a user — like replying to their comments — then your content might rank higher for them.
Now that you have an idea of how these signals affect your content generally, let’s explore the specifics of the algorithm for each part of Instagram.
How the Instagram algorithm works in 2023
Although the general signals are pretty similar across every part of the Instagram algorithm, there are some important differences in how the platform selects and ranks content between feed posts, Reels, Stories, and on the Explore page.
How the Instagram algorithm works for feed posts
Most of the content a user will see on their Instagram feed is from accounts they actually follow. That said, some of it will be content that Instagram recommends from other accounts, as well as the occasional ads.
Instagram’s algorithms will impact your content, whether it’s being shown to your followers or to potential new followers. For the former, the algorithms will affect how far up in their feed your content will be. For the latter, whether you even show up on their feed or not depends on the algorithm.
Instagram’s algorithms use various signals to make educated guesses about what kind of content a user will want to see. And knowing these signals will give you a better chance of showing up in their feed.
Here are some signals that’ll get your content in front of an Instagram user:
Do they engage with similar content?
If you’re creating something that’s similar to the content they’re already engaging with, you have a better chance of showing up in their feed.
Do they follow similar creators?
When a user follows creators in your niche, this signals that they’re interested in that kind of content. The more similarities there are between your Instagram account and theirs, the more likely Instagram would recommend your content to them.
Have you interacted with them in the past?
Even if a specific Instagram user doesn’t follow you, having interacted with them signals to Instagram that they may be interested in your content. If you’ve commented on their posts — or they commented on yours — that interaction might push your content onto their feed.
Once Instagram’s algorithms push your content to a potential follower’s feed, there are yet more factors that impact how high up in their feed it’ll show up. Most of them fall under potential engagement — meaning how likely that user is to interact with your content in one way or another. The algorithm takes five kinds of interaction into account:
- Spending a few seconds on a post
- Liking it
- Sharing it
- Tapping the profile photo
These interactions are each given a different weight, but there’s no word on how that works exactly. Still, generally speaking, the more likely a user is to interact with your content — and take actions weighed more heavily — the higher up in their feed your content will be.
Now, let’s see how the algorithm works for other parts of the app.
How the Instagram algorithm works for Reels
Instagram Reels work quite a bit differently from the main IG feed — even if they show up there. That’s because, as far as Instagram is concerned, Reels are there to help users discover new creators, new niches, and new content. They make for great entertainment, too, but that discovery aspect is a big focus. After all, Instagram rebranded video posts as Reels to compete with TikTok, which is one of the best platforms for organic discovery right now.
This is why when a user is scrolling through Reels, the majority of the content they’ll see comes from accounts they aren’t following. As a creator, that means Reels are one of the best ways to reach a new audience. Other types of content are more likely to be shown to people who already follow you. So if Reels aren’t already part of your content strategy, they definitely should be!
So, how does the Instagram algorithm decide which user sees your Reels and how soon they’d see them? Again, it uses signals, and they’re pretty similar to the ones that inform the main feed algorithm:
The user’s activity
What Reels have they already liked, shared, saved, or otherwise engaged with? This tells the algorithm what kind of content a user likes. So, if your Reels are similar to what that user already enjoys, they have a better chance of showing up on their Reels page.
Their interactions with you
Much like with the feed algorithm, users you’ve interacted with in the past are more likely to see your Reels — even if they don’t already follow you.
How your Reel is performing
Engagement metrics like the ones tracked on the user side are important for determining how your Reels will get picked up by the algorithm. If you’re using popular audio tracks or visuals, your Reels are more likely to get grabbed and have better reach, too.
How your overall account is performing
The more popular your account — meaning the more followers and engagement you get — the more likely your Reels are to get pushed by Instagram’s algorithms. After all, having more followers tells Instagram that you’re creating compelling content.
These signals make your Instagram Reels more likely to be seen by people. But did you know there are also negative signals that make your Reels less visible? If any of these apply to your Reels, you’re probably not going to get as much reach out of them:
- Production quality issues: You don’t need to film your Reel in 4K, but it does need to meet a minimum standard. If it’s blurry, low-resolution, or muted, it won’t get pushed by the algorithm.
- Reposts: Instagram likes fresh, new, original content. So if your Reels are just reposts of — or reactions to — other people’s content, they won’t get as much traction.
- Politics: The Instagram algorithm likes Reels that avoid political topics. For creators passionate about advocacy, this can be something of a bummer.
- Going against Instagram’s guidelines: Reels that go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines will potentially get removed altogether, while those that don’t follow the platform’s Recommendation Guidelines just won’t get as much visibility.
Make sure your Reels have the best chance to reach a new audience by keeping the production quality high and steering clear of controversial topics. Create them consistently, and you’re bound to see results.
How the Instagram algorithm works for Stories
When it comes to Stories, the Instagram algorithm only affects the order in which they’ll show up for people who are already following you. Here’s what the Instagram algorithm takes into account.
- How often users view your Stories: If a user often watches your Stories, they’re going to be prioritized in their tray. So, a good way to get your Stories in front of more people is to create them often and make them as engaging as possible.
- Engagement: Speaking of engaging, users who send likes or DMs after viewing one of your Stories are more likely to see your Stories earlier in their tray.
- Closeness: Instagram’s algorithm will make an educated guess about a user’s relationship with accounts they follow, and try to prioritize Stories from that user’s IRL friends and family.
Stories aren’t the best way to get reach organically, but they’re pretty solid when it comes to keeping your audience engaged — and remember that engagement is factored in by other aspects of the algorithm.
How the Instagram algorithm works for the Explore page
Together with Reels, the Instagram Explore page is the best way for users to discover new creators and get exposed to what the algorithm thinks they’ll enjoy. In other words, the majority of content a user sees on their Explore page comes from accounts they’re not already following, giving creators a better chance to reach them.
When it comes to the Explore page, the Instagram algorithm looks at a user’s past activity to make educated guesses as to the kind of content they’ll want to see. These guesses are based on a user’s likes, shares, and saved posts. After the algorithm has a good idea of a user’s preferences, it will take into account various “signals” from your content, which are in line with signals from other parts of the app:
Your content’s performance
How popular is your post? Have hundreds of people liked it soon after it was published? What about comments and shares? Instagram has said that this signal is more important on the Explore page than on a user’s Feed.
User activity in the Explore page
A user’s preferences for Instagram content overall are weighed pretty heavily in the algorithm, but so are the actions they take on their Explore page. If they’re liking, sharing, or saving content similar to yours from the Explore page, your content is more likely to show up for them.
Much like with other aspects of the Instagram algorithm, users you’ve interacted with in the past are more likely to see your content on their Explore page, especially if they don’t already follow you.
Your account’s performance
The more engagement you get on your account — and your content overall — the more that signals to the algorithm that your content has widespread appeal.
With the Instagram Explore page’s focus on discovery, it’s one of the most important channels for pulling in new followers. When creating content — whether that’s photos or Reels — make sure to keep these signals in mind if you want to pump up your follower count.
8 Tips to make the Instagram algorithm work for you
Now that you know how Instagram’s algorithms work, how do you make them work for you?
1. Create high-quality and engaging content
Before you try anything else, you need to make sure your content is top-notch. Outside of controversy and random virality, quality content is the best way to get a lot of engagement, and the Instagram algorithms really care about that.
2. Be consistent
Not only should you establish a regular posting schedule, but you should also ensure that the quality of your content stays consistent. Think of each piece of content as a chance to tell the Instagram algorithms, “Hey, look at this great stuff I’m making!” This is especially important for grabbing followers off of the Explore and Reels pages.
3. Experiment with Instagram Reels
Instagram Reels might be the best way to reach new users — and Instagram’s algorithms are the proof. Most of the Reels a user sees when scrolling on the app come from accounts they don’t follow, so you should definitely be creating them if you aren’t already.
4. Encourage interactions and conversations on Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories are only shown to people who follow you, but you can still use the algorithms to your advantage. Since they’re more likely to show up at the front of a user’s Stories tray when they interact with your Stories, make sure you use every method and feature at your disposal — like the Question and Poll stickers — to get that engagement.
5. Use relevant keywords and hashtags
One of the best ways to tell the Instagram algorithms what your content is about is by adding hashtags to your post. No need to go overboard, though. Instead, focus on a few hashtags that communicate your niche, the type of content you’re posting, and who it’s intended for.
You can also use relevant keywords in the description, the captions, and in the content itself.
6. Tag your location
Instagram has shared that the location attached to a post can affect how it ranks in a user’s feed, though they haven’t said how exactly. So, to play it safe, add locations to your posts whenever you can.
7. Post at the right time
While the time you post doesn’t exactly factor into Instagram’s algorithms, the engagement you get does. So, post when your audience is most likely to be scrolling through Instagram to get maximum engagement.
8. Respond to DMs and comments
When you interact with an Instagram user, the algorithms are more likely to recommend your content to them in the future. So, to increase your reach, spend a bit of time replying to comments. That applies to both under your own content and that of other creators.
Make the most out of Instagram
Instagram algorithms work throughout the app to recommend content to users — which makes them some of your best tools for reaching a new audience. Some of the most powerful signals the algorithms use involve the engagement your content gets and how big your account is. So, as long as you focus on creating the best content you can and interacting with Instagram users at every chance you get, the algorithms will be really friendly towards you.
Now that you know how the Instagram algorithms work, want to find out how much you can make on the platform? Use our free Instagram Money Calculator to estimate your earning potential.
Looking for quick answers? Here are the top questions creators like you have about the Instagram algorithm.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
The first thing you need to know is that there’s no single algorithm covering all content on Instagram.
When people use the term “Instagram algorithm,” they’re referring to what’s really a system of multiple algorithms and processes aimed at picking out and ranking content that users will enjoy most. Depending on where that user is on the app, that content might come exclusively from accounts they follow, mostly from accounts they don’t follow, or a mix of both.
The algorithms use a range of signals to determine what content a user will see. Here are some of the main ones:
- The kind of content that user interacts with.
- A piece of content’s performance (mostly engagement).
- A specific account’s follower count and engagement.
- Interactions between the user and an account holder.
So, how do you make the algorithms work for you? Create great content, go out of your way to interact with Instagram users, and experiment with different types of content.
Does the Instagram algorithm favor Business and verified accounts over personal accounts?
No. In a Story from the @creators account on Instagram (which Meta uses to answer questions from creators and share new IG features), it’s confirmed the platform does not favor posts from Business and verified accounts in the feed.
Does Instagram shadowban accounts?
Meta claims that it doesn’t. Now, while definitions of the term “shadowbanning” can vary, Instagram has used the description “[when] a user’s account or content is limited or hidden without a clear explanation or justification” when discussing internal practices regarding shadowbanning. In short, Instagram says it doesn’t take active steps to suppress specific content. Instead, it outlines that the app is naturally incentivized to help content reach its ideal audience.
That said, it’s also a known fact that Instagram limits the reach of content that goes against its Recommendation Guidelines. These guidelines include a long list of topics, from exaggerated health claims to clickbait and fighting. If your content features stuff like that, then Instagram might not recommend it. So, while you’re not shadowbanned per se, you still won’t get the traction other creators might.