Mastering the Algorithm: How to Optimise your Instagram Game

Instagram’s main goal is to keep its user on the platform for as long as possible. Looking at content and interacting with it as much as possible and thus giving the social network the most opportunities to show you as many adverts as is reasonably possible. 

Of course, it’s not just about shoving any random advert onto your smartphone screen. It’s all about relevant ads; what, out of all the promotional content that it can show you, are you most likely to be interested by, engage with, and ultimately spend money on? It is a money making business after all. 

The platform uses algorithms to detect user behaviour patterns on an individual level, the data it has, and the calculations and predictions it can extrapolate from them are incredible.

The platform is constantly tweaking with and perfecting its formula. There was a time not too long ago where a user’s Instagram feed actually displayed all posts from all the accounts they followed, in a sort of chronological swamp of relevant and irrelevant content soup.

Now, users will see what they supposedly wish to see most, without them even directly indicating their preferences. 

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So, as a content creator, how can you ensure that your content gets seen to your audience? We’re going to take a look at best practices to maximise your content’s potential under the current iteration of Instagram’s configuration. 

Content quality remains king in this game, and most likely always will. So ensuring you maintain your level of high quality, well thought out content which is interesting, original and provides value to your audience is critical. However, there’s a few other factors at play, as well as some tips and tricks to make sure you play the algorithm game effectively to make sure Instagram’s “numerical recipe” marks your content as worth seeing.

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Ultimately there are 6 key factors that shape the performance of the Instagram algorithm, these include Interest, Relationship, Timeliness, Frequency, Following and Usage. We’re going to dive into the areas that matter most for optimising your content as an influencer and beat the algorithm to get your posts viewed more.

First, let’s run through the 4 main engagement metrics currently on the platform and where they rank in terms of importance and how to score well with them. Assuming you have your Instagram account set to “business”, you’ll be able to collect all the necessary insights on your posts to track results and understand how well your content is doing.

Likes

Once the staple, the bread and butter, the universal currency on Instagram, likes were the ultimate indicator of whether content was well-received. However, since the ever growing phenomenon of buying fake likes, their value has plummeted in terms of the Instagram algorithm. 

Even if you’re getting lots of likes from your followers, it’s still the low-interest engagement marker. Just because someone has liked your content, doesn’t mean they’ve really engaged with it. A quick double-tap while flying through their feed is often more symbolic, a token gesture of general approval, rather than an active interaction.

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Obviously they still have their own unique value and will still indicate to the platform that your followers want to see more of this content. Brands too also use likes as a quick-shot benchmark for engagement calculations.

Likes still hold their spot as the most immediate and visible indicator of approval and engagement, though their days may well be numbered, with consistent rumours floating of phase out of their display. Instagram seems to be toying with the idea of removing public like statistics from content in some capacity. Users will still be able to like content, and this will continue to feed into the algorithm, however they might only be able to see that other accounts they follow have liked a piece of content rather than a total number.

Comments

If your followers are commenting on your content, this signals to the algorithm that the content is popular and interesting, and therefore will be more likely to end up in more of your followers’ feeds.

Leaving out the sliding in DMs, comments are your public way to engage with your audience. Comments are seen as more valuable than their lightweight cousin, likes, as they demonstrate a more active form of engagement.

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Not only is this a great way to connect with your followers by answering questions and showing your appreciation for their support, the algorithm also factors in replies. Replies to comments are effectively treated as comments in their own right, so to boost your scores here, make sure you reply to as many (if not all) comments on your content as you possibly can. It’s a simple and easy way to literally double your comment numbers!

Asking questions in your posts is a great way to encourage followers to comment on your content and gives you a chance to reply and open up a discussion, all the while adding to your total comments and boosting your content rating.

Shares

When we’re looking at shares, we’re talking about the little paper plane icon, allowing users to ping a post straight to their friends via direct message. These are considered more valuable than likes or comments, as users signal that the content is worth sending to someone else.

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Providing insightful and useful content for your followers is more likely to result in them sharing this with their contacts. Being as original as possible will also ensure your content is shared more if it’s only available via your account.

Saves

That little bookmark button’s arrival on Instagram was always inevitable, due to its integration and popularity on Facebook. It may have seemed insignificant at first, but its importance has become clear, making it the engagement metric of the moment! 

When people save your posts, they most likely intend to revisit it, referring back to your content at a later time. This indicates that saved posts are not just interesting at the initial passing impression, but worth viewing multiple times from users.

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Having your content saved is the best way to make sure your posts are ranked higher in the algorithm and shown to more of your audience, as well as potential new followers. Users are creating their own mini libraries of their favourite Instagram content, having your content included in this more often is extremely valuable for putting your content at the top of the pile.

More and more, you’ll notice brands and influencers, when running a giveaway or competition, will ask their followers to save the post as part of the entry requirements. This is a brilliant way to boost your results, so definitely give this ago when also encouraging an action on your posts. There’s a reason why it’s being described as the “super like”.

Stories

Want to boost your views and move your profile icon up the queue of your followers’ story carousel? Making your story content as engaging as possible will help this! The more instant reactions and story replies you get, the better your story content is rated. Users will see stories from accounts they interact with most first, on the left of the story row, so encouraging more action on your stories is going to push them towards the front.

Of course, sticking to the usual “high quality wins” for your story posting is always the rule, but there’s a few things you can do to make your stories even more interactive for your viewers. Inserting polls, quizzes and slide bar reactions in your story is a fun way to get people to engage with your temporary content; the more of this, the better your stories will perform in the future.

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Asking questions in your stories is also a great way to get your followers involved with your content. It also presents a great opportunity to share any answers in your story, with the potential for attracting more reactions still. As well as this, it’s just a nice way to interact with your followers by making them feel valued and build a meaningful connection with you. This is more likely to lead to high value followers who engage with your content on a regular basis; the more followers you can convert to this action, the better you’re going to be performing going forward.

Posting regularly to your story is going to boost your views too, as accounts that users regularly engage with will see those stories at the front of their queue, even if they’ve watched all of the stories from that account the previous day.

Time

Another key success metric that Instagram uses to form its algorithm is the amount of time users spend viewing your content. This is why video and boomerang content performs so well, because it takes longer to view them.

Creating longer and more interesting captions on your content is an easy way to get people to click “read more” and spend more time with your content. Insightful “guide” style content such as recipes is likely to keep your users looking at your content for longer.

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The other time factor to consider is the time at which you post. Instagram’s algorithm cares about when you post, because it aims to show users the latest, most interesting posts. So by finding your best times to post, you can hack the algorithm to increase your reach. 

Using previous post performance and results is a good way to work out when is best to post. Posting at times when your followers are online and most active will give you the best chance of reaching more of them with your posts.

Hashtags

A second language to all who grew up in the social media age, hashtags are a great way to label and essentially categorise your content. Users growing through the Explore section of Instagram will be served up posts the algorithm deems most interesting to them from their account behaviour and activity, so it’s important to make sure your posts contain the relevant hashtags to get your posts in front of these users.

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Users searching specific words and topics will also be shown posts that fit from hashtags on high performing content. Including more niche hashtags on your posts is a solid strategy for capturing more views from people searching for more specific and targeted content.

Wrap Up

As you can see there’s many ways to stay on top of the Instagram algorithm and get your content to the top of the pile and viewed by more of your audience as well as suggested to others too. It’s vital to keep track of all the factors that feed into how your content is ranked to make sure you stand out from a very noisy space. 

Your account insights are your best friend when it comes to improving your scores. Keep tabs on how your content is performing, what’s working and doing well and what isn’t. What kind of interaction and engagement is your content getting and what may have factored into that? What time was it posted and in what form?

Tracking your results will help you work out what’s working best and allow you to focus your efforts in the most effective direction. As I’ve mentioned before, the quality of your content is still what matters most, so keep churning that out while also paying attention to the tactics laid out above and you’ll master the Instagram algorithm!

When you put so much effort into growing your audience and consistently producing high quality content, playing the algorithm game on Instagram makes sure your posts get the maximum exposure and achieve their potential. Put your results to work and monetise your Instagram success by checking out our guide for 10 tips for Instagram Affiliate Marketing.

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