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Instagram algorithm, debunked (2021)

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

UPDATED August 31, 2021

In the second instalment of the How Instagram Works series, the platform has released information on Search and how to optimize it for your business.

Search is based on the input that you provide to Instagram. This includes keywords from your bio, to your username, to the places you visit. These rankings also consider how you’ve interacted with certain accounts in the past, and your likelihood to engage again.

Some of the easiest ways to optimize your reach in Search:

  1. Use a handle and profile name that fits your brand goals

  2. Provide strong keywords and locations within your bio so people in your area can find you

  3. Use relevant keywords and hashtags in your captions.

You heard right! That’s official, right from the digital horse’s mouth: Put your hashtags in your caption, not your comments. While it may damage your aesthetic, it is at the expense of your searchability. So use all 30 of your hashtags, put them in your caption, and make it count. Good luck!

Original article: June 10, 2021

Ah, the dreaded Instagram algorithm. Fake experts claiming to have finally “hacked the algorithm” are often circling the app as quick as wildfire and it’s tough to keep track of what’s true and what’s hocus pocus. Is a ‘Save’ the new Super Like? (Spoiler: No.)

Fortunately, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, published a blog this week that details everything we need to know on how content is pushed and shared on the platform.

First, there are multiple algorithms at play, along with classifiers and processes helping to choose the best content to show to every person on the app. Prior to 2016, Instagram followed a chronological feed which was changed due to users missing up to 70% of posts relevant to them in-feed, including posts from close connections. Those rally cries to bring back the chronological feed? Maybe it’s not the answer after all.

So if you want to work with Instagram instead of trying to “hack” it, here’s what you need to know.

Your feed

  1. Information in the post - This looks at how many people have liked it, location of the photo or video, and length of the video.

  2. Information about the person who posted - Based on how often you interact with an individual’s posts in recent weeks, Instagram gets a sense of how interesting this person is to you.

  3. Your activity - Instagram learns what you enjoy based on your actions in your home feed, and adjusts what you see first accordingly.

  4. History of interacting with someone - Instagram registers how often you’d like to see this person’s content. For example, they’ll push more content from accounts that you frequently comment on, compared to accounts that you occasionally “like.”

Explore page

  1. Information in post - How popular a post seems to be amongst the general public on Instagram, this information is collected based on how quickly people are engaging with the post in comments, likes, shares, etc.

  2. Your history of interacting with the person who posted, and information about them - Though you likely won’t remember, you may have interacted with these certain accounts in the past. This informs Instagram of how likely you are to enjoy their content again. (It even tracks how many times you’ve interacted with the account in recent weeks. Spooky.)

  3. Your activity - You’re more likely to be shown posts similar to ones you’ve already liked on the Explore page. Each time you interact with a post, the algorithm will push more of the content in that niche to your feed.


The ultimate disclaimer before we get into it: Always upload Reels content without watermarks. The algorithm registers when something is crossposted from a different app and will actually penalize your content for it (yes, that means your TikTok watermark).

  1. Your activity - Honing in on what Reels you engage with most frequently to present you with videos you’ll find most relevant

  2. History of interacting with this person - While you likely don’t follow or even know who posted the content you consume most frequently, if you interact with the person’s Reels often, it gives Instagram an idea of who and what you’d like to see most often.

  3. Information about the Reel - This comes down to the popularity of the video as well as the audio used and the dimensions, frames, and pixels used in the video.

  4. Information about the person who posted - While popularity continues to play a big part in the Reels game, Instagram uses this to find compelling content from a wide range of people and communities to give everyone on the app a chance to find their best audience.

Other factors involved also come down to simply how many people you follow, how often and how long you are on the app, as well as how much content you consume while the app is open.

In the end, the key to playing nice with algorithms is to make content worth engaging with, and reward other people’s engaging content more often. That’s it. There is no mysterious secret potion that will grow your following overnight. Devoting your social media strategy to genuinely great content has been (and always will be) the strongest way to build your following.


Michelle Nguyen Lead writer and social media strategist at Super Duper Studios.


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