Five Things You Need to Understand About the Instagram Algorithm

Yes, you can publish three times a day and try to expedite your total engagement, but that’s also a really exhausting thing for many people. So, instead, I’m going to help you understand what the Instagram algorithm is looking for this year so you can get a head start on creating an Instagram presence that adheres to your lifestyle.

By Sarah Potter

January 17, 2021

I absolutely love working on Instagram. There are many people out there who feel the same way but struggle with the app. One thing that I do in my business is I help individuals understand how to create sustainable marketing plans on their Instagram and for their Instagram.


Yes, you can publish three times a day and try to expedite your total engagement, but that’s also a really exhausting thing for many people. So, instead, I’m going to help you understand what the Instagram algorithm is looking for this year so you can get a head start on creating an Instagram presence that adheres to your lifestyle.


How Interested Will Users Be?


The first factor that matters with the Instagram algorithm is the level of interest. It might surprise some to learn that your Instagram feed isn’t based on who you follow, but it’s also based on the accounts and posts you’ve liked historically. If the Instagram algorithm thinks you will like a certain type of post the higher it will appear in your feed. Therefore, you see some people’s posts more frequently than you do your other friends or family.

The things you see in the Instagram feed are a combination of all of your Instagram behaviors. This includes the accounts you interact with the most, the people you are tagged in photos with, and the types of photos you like and comment on. It’s important to show up consistently on Instagram for this reason alone it sends positive signs to the Instagram algorithm and it gives your audience more opportunities to interact with your content.


How Engaged Are You With Other People’s Content?

I have been saying for a long time now that engagement is one of the key pillars in creating a sustainable Instagram life. You can post a few times a week and still receive a lot of engagement. And the number of times you engage with other content on Instagram will drive that engagement throughout the week.


So let’s talk about the engagements that are the most important for the Instagram algorithm. When it comes to performing in the Instagram feed, we have understood that the algorithm prioritizes content that receives the most engagement. This can be incredibly frustrating if you’ve been working really hard on increasing your own engagement on Instagram, hoping your content will then become more engaged .

According to Instagram, the most important engagements for feed ranking are comments, likes, re-shares, in views for videos. This is incredibly helpful information to know and understand when you’re planning out your content and your captions. Optimizing your content for saves is one of the most worthwhile things you can try to accomplish on your Instagram feed. It’s not typically listed as a key engagement indicator at the moment, but it’s definitely a worthwhile try.


Similar to how Facebook has been prioritizing your relationship with close friends and family in the newsfeed, Instagram is trying to do the same thing period the algorithm is attempting to prioritize posts from your friends and family and accounts that you truly care about, according to Instagram.

The algorithm is not perfect by any means, so in order for Instagram to show you what you want, the algorithm is going to use your interactions to piece together who is closest to you.

Theoretically, this is how the app figures out who you care about most:

   People you direct message

   People whose content you like consistently including posts and stories

   People you search for

   People you know in real life

Instagram attempts to calculate this relationship and your interest level as soon as someone you follow begins serving you their content.

Are You Posting At The Right Time?

Timeliness is also an important factor according to the Instagram algorithm because not only does the algorithm pay attention to how much engagement your Instagram post gets, but it also looks at how long ago the photo was posted. 


The algorithm cares deeply (as if to humanize it) about when you posted because it always wants to serve the latest and greatest most interesting posts to your audience. By understanding the best time to post on Instagram, you can attempt to hack the algorithm and increase your reach and get more likes and followers. This is easily done by looking at the insights within the Instagram app itself. You can also make this process easier for yourself by looking at apps like later, buffer, sprout social, and other top social media tools.


 Any app that has the best time to post features is automatically going to help you calculate your seven most important posting times based on how much Instagram engagement your posts have gained historically. History really matters when increasing engagement on your posts.

One tip I have to help you better increase the historical factors within your Instagram profile are to archive old posts with low engagement. You can take this content and re share it in a brand new post to garner more and better high quality engagement overall.

It’s also important to look at the type of content you’ve been posting that has the highest level of engagement. Understanding what content your audience cares about most will help you better understand the type of content you need to focus on.


Who You’re Following Matters (and How Many).


This is important to understand, the number of people you are following on Instagram matters. If you follow many people, Instagram has more options to choose from for creating your personalized algorithm news feed so you will not see all the posts from every single account you’re following.

If you’re following over 1000 people on Instagram, it could be worth going through all of those that you’re following and removing inactive or ghost accounts that you just don’t have any interaction from anymore. If a large percentage of your following is inactive, they could do more harm than good for your accounts rank on Instagram.


How Often Are You Using The Instagram App?


Some of you may have noticed over the past six months Instagram’s newest feature for those who run out of new content from followers you’re currently following and being replaced with content from other accounts that you might be likely to follow. If you spend enough time on Instagram, you are going to run out of content to see and observe and engage with. 

Once this happens, the algorithm is going to serve you content from new accounts based on your previous interactions. I personally feel that this is a really tricky way to rank other high ranked profiles on Instagram.

I also find this troubling because there are often several days where I’m not looking through my entire feed throughout the day and I know I am missing crucial posts from people I care about. But because the Instagram algorithm is so hyper focused on showing you the newest content, you are often missing out on older content from other creators and people you follow on Instagram that you actually care about.

If you only spend a few minutes in the app each day your most likely only going to get the day’s highlights from the algorithm , again this means you’re going to be missing out on important posts from people you actually care about on Instagram.


All the Things I Do


Check out Sarah’s current writing pieces on the blog or some of her published pieces available to review by clicking below.


Sarah has spoken for SXSW, Teenpreneur, Plutus Voices, local business groups, and to private groups near and far. 


Need a little help understanding your business needs or help your business boost its strategy?


Sarah has created coaching programs and education programs for businesses, private law firms, and individual students. 


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