The number one thing Instagram uses to rank content 

This is the number one thing Instagram uses to rank content. 

On Wednesday (May 31, 2023), Head of Instagram—Adam Mosseri—shared a 10-minute video explaining how ranking  on Instagram works. There is also an article on the Instagram website that covers the same topic. 

You can watch the video here or read the article here.

One of the most common complaints I hear about Instagram is “I miss the 2014 Instagram”. People blame the algorithm for their followers not seeing their content or their reach or engagement decreasing.

I get it. It’s always nice to have a “bad guy” to blame. And why not a mysterious, faceless thing like the algorithm. It’s much easier than taking a hard look at your content , or your behavior on the app.

Let’s talk about the algorithm and then get into the number one thing you need to understand based on this latest explanation.

Here’s the definition of algorithm:

A set of finite rules or instructions to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations.

In social media algorithms help maintain order and assist with ranking. And Instagram actually has a different algorithm (or set of ranking rules) for each of its surfaces (feed, stories, reels, explore). That’s because the purpose of each surface is different, so the rules should be different, too.

The reason the old (aka chronological) feed will never come back is because there are too many people and too much content being created. The algorithms are necessary and useful because of how many people and how much content is on Instagram.

We think algorithms are this evil thing out to get us, but they have also probably helped you find an account, product, service, recipe or new Netflix show that you couldn’t live without.

Without the algorithm you’d never see that cute dog video your friend found on their explore page and shared to their story. You’d know so much less about Scandoval (maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing).

As with most things, it’s often as simple as changing your mindset. Algorithms help us discover new things. Does it always get it right? No. But it does a pretty damn good job. And the best way you can make Instagram what you want it to customize your preferences. Train the algorithm to show you things you want. And when it gets it wrong, let it know instead of getting frustrated and scrolling on. There are so many ways your can personalize your experience on Instagram to mold it to best serve you.

While we’re never going to fully understand the algorithms, and there is no way to “beat” the algorithm, if you listen (or read) carefully, you can decipher what Instagram prioritizes, and mirror your efforts off of that as well.

Let’s get back to the video and article shared at the end of May.

I listened and one word kept coming up…SIGNALS.

Signals are all of the information Instagram has about what was posted, the people who made those posts, and your preferences. There are thousands of signals Instagram takes into account, but these are the one they say are most important (in order of importance):

▶️ Your activity. Posts you’ve liked, shared, saved or commented on.

▶️ Information about the post. How popular a post is, when it was posted, and what location, if any, was attached to it.

▶️ Information about the person who posted. Indicates how interesting the person might be to you, and includes signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks.

▶️ Your history of interacting with someone. This gives a sense of how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person. An example is whether or not you comment on each other’s posts.

I actually went a step further and analyzed the blog post for how many times different words around ranking were used. Here’s what I found:

This shows you how important signals are to ranking content. It was said more than twice as many times as the other keywords. 

Bottomline here – create content that will encourage people to send the right signals to Instagram. Create engaging calls to action, content people want to share with others, have conversations in the DMs. 

Let me know what other ranking or algorithm questions you have in the comments.

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