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Instagram’s algorithms explained

We often hear people talk about the Instagram algorithm as if it’s some sort of mystery monster that lurks under the bed.

In reality, it’s not one singular algorithm, but a selection of algorithms, classifiers and processes that each have their own purposes. How do we know? Well, Instagram published an explanation about how its ranking works.

It’s not surprising that it takes more than just one unwieldy algorithm to take all the nuances of the platform into account and rank accordingly. As such, the only way to tame the beast is to get to know it, which means understanding the best methods for ranking in each part of Instagram.

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How ranking works on Instagram

Each part of the Instagram platform has its own algorithm, designed to work in tune with the way it’s used. While the audience tends to be looking for their closest connections in Stories, they head to Reels to be entertained. 

This means the way they’re ranked is different and content creators should have varying approaches to them too. Users can customise their experience further using features like Close Friends, Favourites and Following, so you need to create compelling content that will entice them to bring your brand into the fold.

Ranking in the Instagram Feed

By its nature, the Feed section of Instagram includes a selection of different types of content, which can make it feel like a very competitive place to be seen. The mix is made up of:

  • Content from accounts you follow
  • Recommended content
  • Targeted ads
  • Videos
  • Photo carousels

The ranking process in Feed includes posts from accounts you’re not already following, but are likely to be of interest based on factors like who you do follow and have engaged with recently. Instagram analyses your activity and turns it into signals to inform what to show you.

These signals can include everything from the format of posts you like to the device you’re using Instagram on. But it’s not just the individual user’s information that influences whether a post is shown to you; how popular it is with others also plays a part.

Once these signals have been established, they’re turned into predictions about the actions you’re likely to take on a particular post. Out of around a dozen predictions, the five most important ones in Feed are how likely you are to:

  • Spend a few seconds on a post
  • Comment on it
  • Like it
  • Share it
  • Tap on the profile photo

Posts it’s predicted you’re more likely to take these actions on will appear higher up your Feed in a bid for Instagram to serve you the content you’re interested in. Signals and predictions are constantly being tweaked to improve the user experience.

This process is then mitigated with considerations like ensuring you don’t see too many posts from the same account in a row or multiple suggested posts back to back.

Tips for ensuring your posts get seen in Feed

As a marketer, there are a number of things you can do to increase the chances of your brand’s posts being ranked in Feed. Just as there’s multiple ranking factors, stacking up these tactics will help target each area.

  • Consistent posting is a ranking factor across all social platforms.
  • Create unique content that’s as creative and true to your brand as possible.
  • Follow the community guidelines, as potentially sensitive or factually incorrect content will be moved down the Feed.
  • Rack up the likes, comments, shares and saves to show you’ve got an engaged audience.
  • Carry out some tests to find the right time of day to post for your target audience and schedule content accordingly.
  • Signpost Instagram to your content with relevant hashtags. You can include up to 30 in a post.
  • Use location tags to further inform the platform on what your post is about.

The way Stories are ranked on Instagram

The Stories you’re shown are a mixture of content from accounts you follow and ads, taking both your viewing history and engagement history into consideration. Instagram also looks at the closeness of your relationship with an account overall, prioritising those that seem to be signified as family or friends.

From these signals, predictions are made about how likely you are to:

  • Tap on a Story
  • Reply to a Story
  • Move on to the next Story

These factors then determine which Stories are displayed where within the Instagram app.

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Tips to rank for Stories

Up the chances of your brand’s Stories displaying for users by posting consistently and encouraging engagement, just like you’re doing with posts in Feed. Another useful tactic for Stories is to tag users, as this is likely to boost your reach, but make sure you’re only highlighting relevant accounts.

Boost engagement in Stories with these features:

  • Questions stickers
  • Polls
  • Sharing stickers
  • Hashtag stickers

Tips to get ranked in Explore

In order to stand out from the crowd in Explore, you need to create high-quality content. This means not only doing the audience research to ensure you’re tapping into areas that resonate, but also using high-resolution video and images and well-written social copy.

The two other tactics that can really make a difference in ranking in Explore are:

  • Tapping into trends, with popular challenges and hashtags often being showcased in this part of the platform.
  • Engaging with content from others that’s similar to the posts you’re producing to gain more credibility within your niche.

Instagram’s process for ranking Reels

While Reels have much in common with Explore, showing you content from accounts you don’t already follow, their main purpose is to entertain. Instagram actually surveys people to determine how entertaining a Reel is, using the feedback to help rank the content.

The predictions the platform is most interested in for Reels are whether you’re likely to:

  • Reshare a Reel
  • Watch it all the way through
  • Like it
  • Go to the audio page

These are determined from signals including your activity, history with the content poster, information about the Reel and details of the account behind it.

Top tips for getting noticed in Reels

Reels are all about entertainment, so you need to get that bit right, posting something that’s really going to strike a chord with the audience. Then think about how you’re going to shoot the video to bring your concept to life.

Other ways you can increase your ranking in Reels include:

  • Create your videos in a vertical format
  • Add a trending song to your video
  • Remove word marks, such as the TikTok watermark