De-Coding Instagram’s Algorithm
The Instagram Algorithm has long since been hailed as an urban legend. Theories on everything from ‘shadowbanning’ to ‘whether your ex is stalking your feed’ have circulated the internet since the app’s conception. For the most part, the speculations have been just that: speculations. Until now. Instagram recently released a comprehensive explanation of the app’s multiple algorithms and we’re here to break it all down for you. Join us in uncovering the secrets of the algorithm and how to exploit it for your benefit!
- The Algorithm(s)
- Instagram Recommendations
- Explore Page
The first myth we’re debunking about the algorithm is that there’s only one. In truth, Instagram uses a system of algorithms which all work together throughout the app. Each feature of the app (Stories, Feed, Explore, etc.) has a different algorithm which is tailored to how people use that feature. In broad terms, each algorithm works by first identifying a group of relevant posts, analyzing signals from those posts, and then ranking those posts based on a set of predictions made from the signals. If this all sounds complex and confusing, that’s because it is. Instagram’s algorithms are taking in a huge amount of information all at once and ranking content in mere milliseconds. It would be impossible to define and articulate every facet of what the algorithm is interpreting at any given moment. Luckily, we’ve distilled the most important takeaways for each algorithm below.
As you’ve probably noticed, Instagram is now recommending content to users not only in their explore pages but in their personal feeds as well. The app’s CEO Adam Mosseri has said that “this shift is part of Instagram’s mission to give users more engaging content to interact with.” The algorithms for what content is recommended to a user vary based on what section of Instagram the user is in, but they all work the same: by defining a set of posts a user would be interested in, interpreting signals about those posts, and then ranking those posts based on how likely a user is to interact with them.
There are a few things to keep in mind across all sections of Instagram when creating content that you want to be ‘recommended’. First, make sure to follow Instagram’s comprehensive Recommendations Guidelines, which are stricter than the app’s more general Community Guidelines. Overall, these guidelines encourage creators to avoid making “low-quality, objectionable, or sensitive” content. You will also want to make sure the algorithms can correctly identify your content. By using keywords in your captions, manually entering alt-text on each of your posts, and adding targeted hashtags, you can ensure that the algorithm correctly identifies and categorizes your posts to be recommended to the right audience.
In the explore page the algorithm prioritizes likes, saves, and shares as signals to predict engagement. Based on how likely a user is to take any of those actions on a post, Instagram will rank which posts are relevant to the user and display them in order of most likely to least likely to be interacted with. All of these posts will also follow the aforementioned recommendations guidelines.
Additionally, you can now search in Instagram’s explore page much like you can in a search engine. Instead of grouping posts by hashtags (as seen in previous versions of the apps), you can now actually search by keywords to find creators or content. This means you’re going to want to make sure your content is as discoverable as possible through what you’re posting in your feed.
When posting on your main feed, you want to focus on making your content discoverable. This is where keywords come in. Keywords have two main purposes. The first is to help users find your content through the search function. Reverse engineering keyword search phrases into your captions will best guarantee that users can find you. If you’re unsure how to do that, think about what a user might search to find your content and then try to use those phrases in your caption.
The second function of keywords is to help the algorithm correctly identify your content so that Instagram can recommend your posts to the right audience. You can aid this process by manually updating your alt-text on each post to more accurately describe your posts and using targeted hashtags in your captions as well. All of this will ensure that your content will be both discoverable and easily identifiable.
Across all features of Instagram, Reels are now getting twice as much real-estate on the Explore page. As the app shifts to favor video over photos (due to the higher engagement with video content), your content strategy needs to include Reels.
To get higher rankings, we recommend keeping reels under 90 seconds, while creating a good first impression within the first three seconds. Optimize your videos to be viewed full-screen and vertically, and don’t use any visibly recycled content from other apps. Share your reels to your main feed to increase their discoverability with hashtags and keyword specific captions.
In contrast to your feed and explore page algorithms, Instagram stories typically prioritizes content from the accounts you interact with the most, rather than the specific content. Think of stories as the place your followers really get to connect with you.
The more likely a user is to take action on a post, the sooner they’ll see the post. Therefore, you want to make stories engaging. Do this by using Instagram stickers to encourage interactions and boost your rank within the algorithm. The best stickers to drive engagement are the poll, question, and quiz stickers. Remember: The more a user engages with your stories, the more likely they will be to see your content regularly.
Now that we’ve uncovered the secrets of Instagram’s algorithm, it doesn’t seem so scary. Be mindful of the algorithm, but don’t let it control you or your content.
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