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Instagram’s Algorithm, But It Actually Makes Sense

October 19, 2022

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Everything you need to know about the Instagram algorithm is in this post. You’re welcome.

What is the Instagram Algorithm (or Algorithms)?

The biggest misconception is that there is one Instagram algorithm.

There isn’t.

There are actually multiple algorithms and processes Instagram uses behind the scenes to personalize each user’s experience.

Now, what are these different algorithms and what are they for?

  • Feed & Stories
  • Search & Explore
  • Reels

Instagram’s Algorithm for Feed & Stories

First, let’s talk about your feed.

Right now there are three ways to view your feed:

  • Following
  • Favorite
  • Default

The Following Feed

When you switch to the Following Feed, you will see the most recent posts from the people you follow (meaning posts will show up in chronological order).

The Favorite Feed

When you switch to the Favorite Feed, you will see the latest from accounts that you choose to be your ‘Favorite’.

To add someone to your ‘Favorites’, simply go to their profile, select ‘Following’ then ‘Add to favorites’. Or if you come across a post from a user, simply select the 3 dots on the top right of the post, and select ‘Add to favorites’.

You can add up to 50 accounts to your list.

(If you need practice with this, you can try adding me to your favorites list!)

The Default Feed

Default is the main view that you see when opening up your Instagram app.

When you’re on the Default Feed, the algorithm will suggest posts that it thinks you like best based on multiple factors.

(Note: Posts from accounts on your ‘Favorites’ list will also show up higher in your home feed, as shown by a star icon.)

How the algorithm ranks your Default Feed is similar to how it ranks your story bubbles.

How Instagram Ranks Feed and Stories

Instagram says that they assume your default feed and stories, “are places where people want to see content from their friends, family, and those they are closest to.”

I believe this is the biggest differentiation between your Default Feed, Search & Explore, and your Reels tabs. With the Default, Instagram is predicting who they believe you’re personally closest to, thus ranking them higher on your feed and on stories.

How do they determine who you’re closest to? With “Signals

Instagram Signals

While Facebook (Meta) owns Instagram, your account isn’t set up the same where you’re able to set statuses with other users (ex: “in a relationship with…” or “mother/father”).

So if you aren’t telling Instagram who you’re close to, how do they know?

There are THOUSANDS of signals that Instagram uses. To name a few:

  • The information about what was posted
  • The people who made the post
  • Your preferences (what you interact with)
  • What time a post was shared 
  • Whether you’re using a phone or web browser
  • How often do you like videos compared to photos
  • Who your ‘Favorites’ are

These are the most important signals across Feed and Stories, roughly in order of importance.

Information About the Post

Yes, the word “information” seems pretty broad. But that’s because it is.

Signals Instagram receives about posts include very broad information: how popular a post is, when it was posted, if it’s a photo or a video, how long the video is, if a location was tagged, what that location was, and so on.

Information About the Person Who Posted

Instagram tries to predict how interesting a user or account is to you by looking at how you interact with other accounts.

Instagram uses signals like how often you interact with a person over a period of a few weeks and what that person typically posts about.

Your Activity

This is as self-explanatory as it sounds. They track your activity on the app! No surprise here.

They use signals like what posts you’ve liked in the past and how many you’ve liked.

Your History of Interacting With Someone

This gives Instagram an idea of how close you are to someone and whether you’d be interested in seeing more posts from a particular person.

For example, if you both comment on each other’s posts.

From there Instagram will try to predict how likely you are to: spend a few seconds on a post, comment on it, like it, save it, and tap on the profile photo. The more likely you are to interact with a post or a specific account, the higher up you’ll see it in the feed. 

You can see this in action on your profile now. Open your Instagram app and with the first post that pops up select the 3 dots in the top right corner.

There’s an option that says “Why you’re seeing this post”.

Instagram is trying to be transparent with its ranking and explain to users exactly why they suggest what they suggest.

I love this transparency. It helps us Influencers and Creators understand why we see what we see. Plus, we’re able to tell them what we want to see less of.

How to Rank for Search & Explore

Explore was designed to help users “explore” and discover new accounts. The grid you see on the Explore Feed is made up of what Instagram has found and recommends specifically for you.

To find this pool of photos and videos they think you’ll like, they, again, look at signals. They look at posts you’ve liked, saved, and commented on in the past and then try to recommend content similar to those posts.

For Explore ranking, these are the signals Instagram weighs in order of importance.

Information About the Post

Again, Instagram is looking at how popular a post is. These are signals like how many people are liking, commenting, sharing, or saving a post and how quickly.

While these specific signals are very similar to how they rank for in-feed posts, they carry much more weight in Explore.

Your History of Interacting With the Person Who Posted

Now, this might be a confusing ranking signal. How is this a factor if these are supposed to be new accounts I’ve never interacted with?

They aren’t looking at accounts you’ve directly interacted with. When you interact with a certain profile, it tells Instagram you like content or profiles similar to theirs.

So while a post you see in Explore is from someone you’ve never heard of or interacted with, Instagram still has a sense of how interested you might be in what they shared.

Your Activity

As we’ve addressed previously, Instagram tracks what actions you take on specific posts, accounts, and feeds (likes, saves, comments, etc.).

These actions are specific to your activity on the Explore Feed in the past.

Information About the Person Who Posted

To talk more about this signal, I’m going to bring up an article about Instagram’s AI and their algorithm.

In it, they said, 

“Because Instagram has a large number of interest-focused accounts based on specific themes — such as Devon rex cats or vintage tractors — we created a retrieval pipeline that focuses on account-level information rather than media-level. By building account embeddings, we’re able to more efficiently identify which accounts are topically similar to each other.”

By building account embeddings, they’re able to more efficiently identify which accounts are topically similar together.

I know, I know. That’s a lot of big, confusing words. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you’ve recently liked a number of photos from Barnes & Noble. Instagram then looks at their account and other people who interact with Barnes & Noble. From these people, Instagram looks at what other accounts those people are interested in.

Maybe people who like Barnes & Noble are also into Book of the Month or OwlCrate. In that case, the next time you open Explore, Instagram might show you a photo or video from @bookofthemonth.


The algorithm on Instagram is specifically saying that you need to be topically consistent. When you are, they know who to show your profile and content to.

How to Rank for Instagram Reels

Instagram says “Reels is designed to entertain you.”

Similarly to Explore, most of what you’ll see on the Reels page will be from accounts you don’t follow. Thus, the process is very similar to how they find content for you.

First, they’ll find a bunch of videos they think you’ll like. Then they’ll rank them in order of what they believe you’ll be most interested in, with an eye toward smaller creators.

That last part is a direct quote. They literally say “with an eye towards smaller creators.”

They’re trying to adapt similarly to TikTok’s algorithm where it’s much easier for smaller creators to blow up.

The most important signals in order of importance are as follows.

Your Activity

Instagram looks at factors like the Reels you’ve engaged with most recently, as well as Reels you’ve liked or commented on. Pretty straight-forward.

Your History of Interacting With the Person Who Posted

As I mentioned in the Explore section, these will likely be videos made by someone you’ve never directly interacted with. But if you’ve interacted with similar accounts, that tells Instagram you’re likely to be interested in what this new account is posting.

This being their second ranking factor, that explains why Reels is so beneficial for smaller accounts. You’re more likely to be recommended to new accounts here!

Information About the Reel Itself

This is the content within the video: the audio track, the caption, the context of what you’re posting (travel, education, cooking, etc.), and popularity.

Information About the Person Who Posted

For this signal, Instagram considers popularity to help find content they think you’ll like from a variety of people. This gives everyone a chance to find their audience.

Okay, so this is all great information… but now what?

How to Make Instagram’s Algorithms Work in Your Favor

We’ve gone over how the algorithm affects what we see as users. But how do we reverse engineer this information so we can be sure we show up for other users?

Stay Within Your Niche

I’ve already talked about this. For Google’s sake, I’ll copy & paste what I already wrote in this post. Maybe by reading it again it’ll click for you.

The algorithm on Instagram is specifically saying that you need to be topically consistent. When you are, they know who to show your profile and content to.

If you still aren’t convinced having a niche is important, read this post here on why niches are important. If you need help finding one, check out this post on how to find your niche.

Got it? Okay good, let’s move on.

Set Up Your Account to Be SEO Friendly

If you don’t know what SEO is, don’t let that scare you away. I let that word scare me for so long… too long. So it’s time we all learn.

It stands for Search Engine Optimization. But it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Basically, SEO is a strategy to organically get in front of your audience’s eyes when people search for something.

As we all know, Instagram has a search bar and Instagram is pushing for more of their users to use it as a search engine by using more keywords or key phrases.

To show up in these searches, make sure you have these keywords, key phrases, and hashtags on your Instagram: your nameplate, bio, captions, etc. 

That way, when someone searches that keyword, Instagram sees you have that word and they’ll recommend you.

For a specific, more in-depth strategy, check out my post on Instagram SEO.

Engage With the Right Accounts

A lot of the signals Instagram looks for are accounts you’ve interacted with in the past. Yes, who you engage with is important, but it’s also important who’s engaging with you.

If you want to reach more people, you need to go out and find your people.

Engage with your people to trigger Instagram’s algorithm. They’ll notice you’ve interacted with them, making it more likely they’ll recommend your content to them.

Don’t be a ghost follower, don’t be a ghost user, and don’t ghost and post. Feed the algorithm all the juicy goodness.

And make sure you’re interacting with the right accounts. What do I mean?

Engage with accounts that are in the same niche or industry as you or accounts that follow and engage with other accounts in your niche.


Now that you’re packed with all this great information (yes, this was a lot. Thank you for tracking), go out and grow your Instagram!

And as always, follow your joy!

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