As we explained in our blog post about the algorithm’s history, it’s here to stay. Therefore, it is important to know exactly how the Instagram algorithm works, in order to make the most out of your Instagram account.

In this article, you will learn what factors the Instagram algorithm takes into account when building the feed so you can maximize the engagement on your posts.

The main principle behind how Instagram’s algorithm works

Your Instagram feed is unique, personalized based on the posts you like and interact with. The algorithm uses machine learning to predict the posts you will like the most, based on your past engagement. Even if you follow the same accounts as someone else, you will not see the same content. 

It is important to understand that Instagram’s main goal is to increase the time spent on the platform. The algorithm is built to identify and deliver the most appealing content, keeping users around for as long as possible. 

Instagram is of course doing this in order to make a profit. Instagram makes money by selling advertisement, so more time on the app means more views on ads.

Factors affecting the Instagram algorithm

Photo by Georgia de Lotz

In early 2019, Instagram tweeted that what shows up in your feed is largely determined by the posts and account with which you engage the most. 

This is in tune with what the company had said earlier. In June 2018, Instagram set up a press presentation to explain in more detail how the algorithm exactly works. 

During that presentation the Instagram product lead Julian Gutman explained, that there are three main factors which determine the order of your Instagram feed:

  1. Interest. The algorithm predicts your potential interest in a post, considering your past behavior on similar content. 
  2. Timeliness. The time when the post was shared also influences its placement in the feed – with priority given to more recent posts. 
  3. Relationship. Posts shared by people you frequently interact with (liking, commenting, tagging or DMing) are pushed to the top of your feed. 

In addition to these main factors, three other features influence post rankings:

  1. Frequency. The Instagram algorithm looks at how often you open the app. It adjusts to show you what it considers to be the best posts uploaded since your last visit. 
  2. Following. The number of people you follow also influences your feed. The more people you follow, the bigger is the pool of posts for the algorithm to choose from. So you will generally see less content from any individual accounts. 
  3. Usage. How much time you spend on the app also determines how many posts you are seeing at the top of your feed. As you continue to browse, you will eventually see all of the content posted by the accounts you follow.

Frequently asked questions about the algorithm

Photo by Emily Morter

The rumors and guesses surrounding the Instagram algorithm keep on popping up. Below we’ve answered the four most popular questions about its functionality. 

Is Instagram “shadowbanning” users for using repetitive hashtags?

Shadowbanning refers to purposely hiding a user’s content from public view on social media so that the user isn’t notified about it. 

Getting shadowbanned on Instagram means your posts and stories will only be seen by your existing followers. Others are not able to find your content via hashtags.

When the algorithm was first released, many Instagram users claimed to be shadowbanned if they repeated the same hashtags too often.

In February 2019, Instagram released a statement admitting that there was a technical issue with hashtags, but they never claimed it to be a pre-made feature.

Therefore, although Instagram didn’t openly admit that shadowbanning exists, there is a possibility that the algorithm does limit the visibility of accounts that display spammy behavior. 

In order to avoid being potentially shadowbanned, make sure that you do not use unreliable automated posting tools or bots, and that you’re not using broken or unrelated hashtags.

Does posting more hurt your performance?

No. Posting more often will not directly hurt your account’s performance in the feed. 

However, if you post several times in a row, there is a high likelihood that another account’s content will be placed in between your posts. In this case, your posts will be pushed lower in the feed, effectively lowering the engagement per post.

On top of that, posting too frequently may seem spammy by your followers. And if your followers think you post too much, they’ll start to engage less, or worse: unfollow you.

Does Instagram limit the reach of your posts?

No, it doesn’t. Instagram disproved this myth in their tweet.

The Instagram algorithm pushes up posts which it finds the most interesting to you. But if you keep scrolling down the feed, you will see all the photos of accounts you follow.

Does the algorithm favor specific kinds of content?

There are many theories about the algorithm favoring specific post formats in order to promote Instagram’s latest innovations. 

However, this is just an urban legend.

Instagram’s feed ranking method does not favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app. Furthermore, feed ranking does not favor the photo or video format uniformly. 

However, different content types might be more engaging to the users than others.

As people’s feeds are sorted based on what kind of content they engage with most, it is important for you to know what content types are the most engaging to your audience.

If your audience responds the best to videos, you should create them often.

Conclusion

Now that you know the basics of how the Instagram algorithm works, the next step is to use it to your advantage.

Instagram continuously states that the only way to increase your engagement is to create high-quality content. 

Exactly how to do that you can learn from our next blog post: