8 June 2023

How does the Instagram Algorithm work?

It’s the question every business owner on Instagram wants to know – how does the Instagram algorithm work? Well, Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri has taken to Instagram and the Instagram Blog to give an overview of how it really works. In this blog post, we are spilling all the tea on what you need to know to rank higher on the platform and get your content in front of the right people. Ready? Let’s dive in! 

What is the Instagram Algorithm? 

Instagram’s main goal is to show content it thinks users will enjoy consuming to keep them on the app for longer. To achieve this, Instagram has algorithms in place to help them decide what content to show to users and in what order. It uses processes and signals to understand what users like to decide this. 

There is more than one Algorithm

Contrary to popular belief there is not one single all-powerful algorithm. There are in fact several algorithms which have different, albeit sometimes similar, sets of rules and signals it uses. There is one for reels, one for stories, one for feed and one for explore page. Keep reading as we are going to break down each of them for you! 

Stories Algorithm

Your stories are shown to people who've chosen to follow you so are a great place to share everyday moments and build relationships with your audience. When deciding what stories and the order it shows them to users, Instagram looks at the following signals:

  • Viewing history - how often do you view an account’s stories
  • Engagement history - how often you engage with an account’s stories (liking a story, sending a DM, interacting with stickers)
  • Closeness - looks at your relationship with the author overall and how likely you are to be connected as friends or family 

It is therefore important to create engaging stories, use story stickers, and encourage likes and DMs to try to rank higher in the story queue for your followers. 

Reels Algorithm

Your reels tab is designed for you to discover NEW things & people. Instagram has said there is an "emphasis on entertainment" when it comes to reels. Most of the reels you will see in your reels feed will be from people you DON'T follow. The most important signals, in order of importance, are:

  • Your activity - reels you’ve liked, saved, reshared, commented on, and engaged with recently
  • Your history of interacting with the person who posted (if any)
  • Information about the reel (e.g., audio track, visuals & popularity)
  • Information about the person who posted e.g., popularity signals such as number of followers or level of engagement

Feed Algorithm

Your feed shows you a mix of content from people you follow, recommended posts Insta thinks you'll like & also adverts. When deciding what it shows you and in what order, the feed algorithm considers:

  • Recent posts shared by people you follow 
  • Posts you might be interested in based on who you follow & have interacted with recently

The most important signals it looks at include:

  • Your activity (posts you've liked/ shared/ saved)
  • Information about the post & how popular a post is)
  • Your activity on the Explore page 
  • Your history of interacting with the person who posted

Explore Page Algorithm

Your explore page is unique to you and is designed to show you new accounts and content from people you don't yet follow. The explore algorithm looks at the kind of people you follow & the types of content you interact with and uses that information to show you recommended posts it thinks you will enjoy & be interested in. To decide what to show you it will look at:

  • Information about the post & how popular a post is at that time
  • Your history & activity on Instagram (what kind of content you enjoy)
  • Info about the author & your history (if any) of interacting with them

Note: the explore page will not show content that people may find offensive or that goes against their Community Guidelines.


What does this mean for businesses on Instagram? Key takeaways for business owners are:

  • Engagement, whether it is in reels, stories, or feed posts is a key factor in getting our content seen. The more engagement a piece of content gets (and the speed at which it gets it after posting) the higher the chances of it ranking higher are.
  • It is super important to know your target market's interests and pain points inside out to ensure you are creating content that stands out to them.
  • Make reels a central part of your strategy if you want to be seen by NEW people.
  • The visuals and audio used in videos as well as information about the person who shared it, like followers or engagement levels, also play a part in ranking Reels.
  • Be aware of Community Guidelines and don't go against them as it will hurt your reach.

While the overview doesn’t share any major revelations we didn’t already know about, it is interesting to understand more about the various elements of the algorithms and how it decides who to show content to. As business owners, we can use this information to improve our content to maximise the chances of it ranking higher on the feeds. Want ideas for Instagram posts that will spark engagement? Take a look at our recent blog post here. And for a custom strategy for your business and tailored content ideas for you to action, head to rapidely where our AI will do it all for you in a few clicks. 

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