How does the Instagram algorithm work? [+Changes Brands Should Know in 2021]

Instagram has been around for 11 years.

While the app was originally intended for still images, content creators and everyday users can now share photos and videos in various forms such as story posts, Instagram roles, and longer-length videos on IGTV.

Although there are many types of content that can be published in the app, it is not enough to use just one of the options in order to achieve marketing success on the platform. This is because, regardless of the quality of the content you share, the Instagram algorithm will determine what will and will not succeed in the app.

While Instagram doesn’t disclose all of the factors that the algorithm uses to rate content, they have posted general information about what the algorithm is looking for. In this post, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about the algorithm to be successful in the app, from the factors that go into the app, to tips and tricks to help ensure that your content don’t go unnoticed.

What is the Instagram algorithm?

The Instagram algorithm examines user behavior in the app and uses your previous activity to decide what content to display in your feed and exploration page, and how others on the platform see your content. Essentially, the algorithm controls your organic reach.

As a business, understanding how the algorithm works and what you need to do to make sure it prioritizes your content and shows your posts to your target audience is important, unless you completely rely on paid ads.

In the following we explain how the Instagram algorithm works and which factors it evaluates when your content appears in news feeds.

How does the Instagram algorithm work?

If you’re a frequent Instagram user, you may have heard people say, “Bring back the reverse chronological order!” when it comes to the algorithm. They are referring to when Instagram shows the most recent posts at the top of a person’s feed and older ones at the bottom.

It’s been great for developers and Instagram users as at some point your post will be at the top of all of your followers’ feeds and they’re guaranteed to see it.

However, in March 2016 the algorithm was changed. Instagram said, “People miss an average of 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it has become harder to keep up with all of the photos and videos people are sharing. This means that often you don’t see the posts that interest you the most. “

It is no longer about when you post, but a number of factors that we will discuss below: relationship, timing, frequency, tracking, use, interest.

Instagram algorithm factors


Perceived relationships are the most important ranking factor.

The algorithm prioritizes sharing content with you based on the relationships you have with the accounts you follow. The more you comment, like, and interact with an account on Instagram, the more likely you are to see its content and see it frequently.

The algorithm also notes people you submit directly, accounts you search for, and photos you are tagged in.

The relationship factor also applies to brands. If a consumer likes and interacts with your content regularly, repeated engagement will cause your posts to appear more often and closer to the top of their feed. This means that it is important for you to be committed to your content, which we will get into below.

Timed coordination

While feeds aren’t chronological, the algorithm wants users to see the latest and most relevant posts, especially from accounts with which you have a closer relationship.

Timing just means that you’re not as likely to see a post from three weeks ago as you were before 2016.

You can use this factor to your advantage by using your profile analysis to determine the best time to post on Instagram. This is a great way to meet your followers when they are most active on the app and are more likely to take action.


The frequency refers to the number of times a user opens the Instagram app.

Frequent users see a more chronological feed, but those who rarely open the app will see posts that are most relevant to their interests and relationships since the app was last opened.


If you follow a lot of people, the algorithm will have more content to choose from when viewing posts in a feed. In this case, they prioritize relationships, engagement, and perceived interests.

This factor again underscores the importance of building a relationship with your audience, driving engagement, and posting at the right time.


The usage factor is similar to frequency as it relates to how much time is spent on the app.

Those who do quick browsing sessions will see what the algorithm determines as the highlights of the day based on the factors mentioned above, while those who spend more time on the app will see a greater number of posts.

Frequent browsers may even run out of content to see. At this point, the algorithm suggests new posts and accounts based on your interactions and engagement history.


Instagram makes a lot of content recommendations, so some of the content users see is based on the app’s understanding of their interest in certain topics.

If it is found that you always like, comment on, and interact with posts on similar topics, those posts will appear first. Users who engage in content similar to what you post are more likely to see your posts, and vice versa.

While this is not a direct factor that Instagram listed as an algorithm factor in 2016, engagement plays an important role in the algorithm process.

How Instagram’s algorithm uses engagement

In addition to all of the above factors, engagement plays an important role in prioritizing and delivering content to users through the Instagram algorithm. The top metrics for engagement are comments, likes, shares, and video views.

Here is a breakdown of the factors involved in the algorithm:

1. The first time you post a photo, a small percentage of your audience will see it.

2. Instagram measures how quickly this photo is interacted with, i. H. With comments and likes.

3. Instagram compares your post’s engagement with other content you’ve shared on similar times and days. Is your 10am post today getting more or less traffic than your 10am post last Monday? The app compares against similar times to ensure accuracy in evaluating your engagement metrics, especially since certain times produce better results.

4. If your photo gets a lot of engagement, Instagram shows it to a higher percentage of your audience and may even share it on exploration sites.

5. If your post continues to generate interest, your photo will stay high on your audience’s news feeds and reach more people. If it doesn’t get a lot of initial attention, less of your target audience will see your post.

Instagram algorithm update 2021

The 2016 algorithm update was almost a complete overhaul of how the algorithm worked. Hence, it is the most notable, famous and confirmed by Instagram.

Unfortunately, Instagram hasn’t always made it public since then when they changed the algorithm. So if you notice changes in your engagement and reach, it is most likely not the result of an algorithm change, but most likely the growth of the app.

There are so many accounts on the platform and as more users follow, competition for the app grows. It becomes harder to generate significant levels of engagement quickly, which in turn affects how, where, and when your posts appear in your audience’s feed. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to monitor your Instagram analytics.

Instagram algorithm recent changes

However, the most recent update of the algorithm from 2021 is the removal of equal counts from people’s photos.

The update hasn’t been rolled out to all Instagram users yet, but it would effectively remove an overall number of likes from a user’s photo and instead only show the usernames of people who liked the post. However, users who post a photo will still have the option to see the number of likes a photo has received.

Instagram is making this update because they believe paying numbers will help reduce bullying in the app and protect users from social pressure that says they need a certain number of likes for their posts.

This is how your posts will appear higher on Instagram

While there isn’t much you can do to beat the algorithm or so to speak, there are ways to get your posts higher up on Instagram.

Post when you know your audience is the most active.

As with all social media platforms, one of the easiest ways to generate instant engagement is to post content when you know your followers are most active since they are already browsing the app and ready to see what You have to offer.

To get this information, you can use the native Instagram Analytics tool available to all users with business accounts or another option like Marketing Hub.

If you’re new to the app, this information can be difficult to get right away. So, come back to this tip after you’ve spent enough time on the app to get valuable, actionable analytics.

Post content that you know your audience will like.

Reuse your analysis. Understand the content that your audience is most concerned with, whether it’s high-quality product photos, behind-the-scenes content, or Instagram roles. Use this to your advantage and keep creating content they like as they are more likely to interact with something they like.

Use business-relevant hashtags.

Hashtags are a great way to signal the algorithm about your content. This can help ensure that your profile appears to viewers interested in the hashtags you are using.

Don’t overload your hashtag usage, try to use it in all the content you share on Instagram, from stories to IGTV to captions.

Promote engagement and interaction.

The interaction on your profile is natural. However, encouraging engagement and interaction with the content you share can be helpful in making the algorithm work for you.

Create engaging captions that will entice users to comment on your posts, ask for likes and shares, and talk to those who interact to instill loyalty and drive them back.

You can also add interactive elements to your Instagram stories, such as: B. Polls, stickers and emojis. This has two benefits as your customers will interact with your content and the answers they provided will tell you more about their interests and wants.

Be consistent.

One of the most important things you need to do in order to take control of the algorithm is to stay consistent in the app. Develop and stick to an Instagram-specific posting plan.

This helps you to stay continuously active on the platform so that your followers can continuously interact with your content so that the algorithm can learn more and more about your account. The more information they have and the more engagement they see, the higher you are in your followers’ feeds.

Instagram story algorithm

Instagram Stories appear at the top of a user’s feed.

The Stories algorithm prioritizes freshness and you are most likely to see the latest stories from the accounts that you engage with and interact with the most. The accounts that the algorithm believes you have the strongest relationships with will always show the stories before all other stories.

For businesses, this means that it is important to maintain an active presence on Instagram Stories and encourage engagement in your Stories such as surveys and questions.

Instagram Explore algorithm

The feed algorithm and the Explore page algorithm are relatively similar in that they both display content that Instagram believes you are most interested in based on your previous app activity. The main difference is that feed content contains accounts that you are familiar with and that you follow, while the Browse page contains content from new accounts.

You can think of it this way: If your favorite thing to do on Instagram is to watch food videos, your feed will show content from the food video accounts that you interact with the most. Your explore page would have food videos as well as the algorithm knows you like them, but you won’t be following those accounts yet.

The exploration page is based solely on interests. As a company, it’s important to share content about your brand and use elements that tell the algorithm who to show your content to, such as: B. Relevant hashtags.

Success on Instagram isn’t just about posting content on a regular basis. You also need to understand how the algorithm works and use its composition to your advantage. Changes to the algorithm are always made, but keeping an eye on the trends can ensure that you are prepared for them when they do.

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