This question has plagued marketers since Instagram first launched its algorithm in July 2016. The Instagram algorithm was introduced to help show the best and most relevant content to every user every time they check their feed. So far, though, the inner workings of the feed have been kept under wraps, but recently Instagram shared six key ranking factors publicly for the first time. In this post, we'll break down the Instagram feed for you. We'll discuss the factors that influence your content's ranking and explain why the Instagram algorithm is actually very useful for marketers. Let's go! How does the Instagram algorithm work? Recently, Instagram invited a small group of journalists to their San Francisco offices to end the rumors and share how Instagram's dynamic ranking algorithm really works. Instagram revealed that three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed: Interest timeliness relation There are three additional criteria that play a lesser role in your Instagram feed ranking: frequency The following usage We'll discuss each factor in more detail below. 3 Most Important Instagram Feed Ranking Factors 1. Interest:
How much Instagram predicts you will care about a post When the Algorithmic Timeline was announced, Instagram mentioned that it would first show what you might be interested in: The order of photos and videos in your feed will depend on your likelihood of being interested in the content , your relationship with the poster, and the timeliness of the post. Content related to your interests will rank higher in your feed . But how does Instagram know about your interests? One way is to look at the types of content you've interacted with in the past (eg travel, food, fashion, sports, etc.). With the level of photo recognition technology available today, I believe the industry mailing list can categorize posts into simple categories such as travel, food, fashion, etc. - and possibly even more complex ones. The algorithm can also look at the hashtags used. If you are exposed to a certain type of content (e.g. food) more frequently, Instagram may rank that type of content (e.g. food, restaurants, etc.) higher in your feed. An Instagram spokesperson told Business Insider that ranking of Instagram posts is not a popularity contest. Posts that are less engaged but more relevant to you can still appear directly at the top of your feed. 2. Timeliness: the update time of the post The next key element in Instagram's algorithm, as Instagram shared a while ago, is timeliness. The order of photos and videos in your feed will depend on your likelihood of being interested in the content, your relationship with the poster, and the timeliness of the post .
Instagram wants to show you recent posts, so they are more relevant. Content from last week may not be as interesting to you as content from an hour ago, so Instagram may show you more recent posts than posts from days or weeks ago — even if older posts receive a lot of engagement . This means that recent posts may rank higher in your feed, and the time of your post is still relevant. Based on a talk by Instagram's Thomas Dimson and my personal experience (admittedly, the sample size is only one) , it seems that the Instagram algorithm only re-ranks new posts between your current visit and your last visit. For example, if I visit Instagram again at 11 o'clock last night and 9 o'clock this morning, and have created 50 posts in between. The algorithm will only sort the 50 posts created, excluding posts made before 11pm last night. From my personal experience, if I scroll through all these 50 posts, I see the same order of posts as when I last visited (11pm last night). (If your personal experience differs from this, it would be great to hear from you!) If true, this could mean that the best time to post is when your followers are most active, as there is less competition (eg between 9am and 10am in the image below). Feed sorted only within vists (Image courtesy of Thomas' slideshow) 3. Relationships: Accounts with which you frequently interact In a June 2016 announcement about the feed ranking algorithm, Instagram stated the following: And no matter how many accounts you follow, you should see the latest posts from your best friends . Just like Facebook, Instagram doesn't want you to miss important posts from friends and family, such as posts about your friend's engagement. This means that content from your "best friend" may rank higher in your feed . I also believe that the Instagram algorithm studies your past interactions to determine your "best friend". In talking about designing and implementing Instagram's algorithm, Thomas Dimson also shared in his talk how Instagram can identify the people you care about: People you enjoy content (may include stories and live videos) who you direct message the person you searched for people you know in real life While these may not be the exact criteria used in Instagram's algorithm, they imply that we at Instagram may consider accounts you frequently interact with as "people you care about." and have confirmed that content from these accounts ranks higher in your feed. An Instagram spokesperson also told Business Insider that profile search is a signal
Instagram considers when ranking posts in your feed. When you search for certain profiles (regularly), this may indicate that you are interested in the account's posts and may not see them in your feed. Instagram may rank their posts higher in your feed so you don't have to search their profile to see their posts , improving your Instagram experience. Instagram's Thomas also mentioned in his presentation that when they tried the new algorithm, the search volume dropped. They think this is a good sign because it means people can see posts that interest them without having to search for their favorite profiles. 3 Additional Instagram Feed Ranking Factors Frequency: How often users open Instagram Every time a user opens Instagram, the algorithm tries to show the best posts since the last visit. So if you open Instagram once a day, you're likely to see posts that Instagram's algorithm thinks are the most relevant for that day. However, if you open Instagram every hour, Instagram will try to show you the most relevant content you've never seen before. Following: Content from all accounts the user follows If you follow thousands of accounts on Instagram, algorithms have to sort through more to decide what to show you every time you open the app.
This means that users who follow a large number of people may see less content from each individual account, while users who follow only a few selected accounts may see it from their closest friends or favorite accounts more content. Usage: time users spend on Instagram Whether users tend to browse Instagram for short or long periods of time also affects what the algorithm displays. If users prefer a brief visit to Instagram, the algorithm will ensure it shows the most relevant posts first, while for users who prefer longer browsing sessions, it may offer a deeper catalog of fresh content to browse.