The Instagram Algorithm in plain English!

I’ve been reading a lot about the Instagram algorithm (and the Facebook one too) and, although I eventually understood, it took a while as so many articles are written in such an unnecessarily complicated way. So, I thought I would write one, taking details from the research I’ve done, and put it into plain English! I hope this helps.

What is the Instagram algorithm?

Basically, it’s a way to look at the content on Instagram and rank it into a particular order. The algorithm decides what content is shown and what order it’s shown in each Instagram user’s feed. It also uses this same information to decide what is shown on the Explore Page, Reels feed and hashtag pages.

The algorithm takes every bit of information into account and analyses every piece of content that is posted. It also looks at any captions or alt text on images and hashtags. It then decides what and how it is going to give relevant content to each user, ensuring that they all have access to subjects they are most interested in.

It knows what you like and want to see as it looks at, not just what posts, stories or reels you post, but what posts, stories or reels you look at, as well as considering any other interests or behaviours you show on Instagram.

For example, I post mainly marketing tips and quotes for small businesses on my feed, with the occasional light-hearted post thrown in.

As well as looking at other businesses’ marketing posts, I also look at foodie, keto and recipe type posts, and reels. And I love following photographers, crafters, artists, and some fun stuff.

So, these are the kind of posts that are fed into my suggestions.

How does it work     

Every time you go onto Instagram, the algorithm scans through all the available content to decide what to show you.

It looks at three particular factors:

Your relationships – it looks at the content you post and the people who look at it – and vice versa. Do you follow each other? Do you leave comments on each other’s posts? Do you message each other? If you regularly interact with the same user, you’re more likely to see any new content that they post – again, the same vice versa.

This is important for your small business. If you are constantly responding to messages and comments – and sending/posting them, it can help improve your visibility on Instagram.

Your interests – the algorithm looks at the type of content you interact with. When it notices that you tend to look at similar types of content, it will give you more of the same.

Is it relevant? The algorithm will decide how relevant each piece of content is, if it fits with any current trending topics and whether the content is evergreen or timeless. The most recent posts are considered more relevant than older ones for example.

How often you use IG – If you don’t use IG very often you will only see things that are directly relevant to you, so you might find you seeing only posts from your friends and family.

Another thing that is considered is how many people you follow. The more people you follow, the more accounts are competing for space in your feed.

How long you spend on IG – this is called session time. If you don’t spend much time on IG, as I said above, you’re more likely to mainly see posts from your friends and family, whereas if you spend a significant amount of time on IG every day, you will start seeing more posts that you are interested in, and similar businesses to your own. Also, you’re more likely to see more posts from those you follow and interact with.

Why do you see what you see in your feed?

Every day you will see lots of posts and stories that the IG algorithm predicts you will like, based on:

  • The accounts you follow
  • How many likes those posts get
  • How many times you’ve interacted with that account in the past (through likes, comments, profile visits, follows and saves etc.)
  • What kind of posts or stories you look at and interact with

After it’s assessed all these things, the algorithm has an idea about what other kinds of posts you might be interested in, and then pushes them to your feed and stories. This might be accounts you already follow, but it also shows you posts that it thinks you’ll like from people you don’t yet follow. It will also suggest accounts that you might be interested in.

In the same ways that the IG algorithm looks at all these different things and rewards quality, engaging content and pushes it your way, it also rewards quality, engaging content that you post by pushing your account to others.

There are strict guidelines about posts

Just the same as any other social media platform, there are strict guidelines about what is not acceptable. Posts that contain misinformation, or of a political nature, or content that is potentially upsetting or sensitive are not liked, so if you post this kind of thing – or if your images or videos are low resolution, you might find that your posts are not pushed to other accounts.

The best way to get seen on IG

The best way to get seen on IG is to post a variety of posts regularly, such as carousels, single posts, images, reels, video, stories etc. When posting reels or stories, use the filters, effects, stickers, polls, links, music etc that is there to help you, as this makes your posts more interesting.

Check out your insights

Your insights will give you information about your audience and what kind of posts they like best, so keep an eye on this on a regular basis. It also tells you what time is best for you to post to get the maximum reach for your account.

Getting more engagement on a story or reel can be as simple as adding a sticker or poll. It’s about experimenting with all the options available to you, to find what works best for your business and followers. Ask questions so that you encourage your audience to engage with your posts, and always reply to comments and DMs.

Why are hashtags important?

Whilst the IG algorithm can evaluate certain things, it can’t recognise what’s in a photo or image you’ve posted. This is one way that hashtags come into their own. For example, if you’re a pet photographer and you post photos you’ve taken of customers’ pets, the algorithm won’t know this – but it will recognise the hashtags, such as #cutecats or #dogsofinstagram. Using accurate and descriptive hashtags that are relevant to your post will help the algorithm understand your post, and so push it to people it knows are interested in that subject.


To sum up, the IG algorithm evaluates content and ranks it. It looks at what you and others like and matches up accounts it thinks will resonate with you all. Hashtags help it to categorise posts, so it pushes those posts to what it thinks are the relevant audience.

You can help the algorithm get your posts noticed by doing a variety of different types of posts, using all the gimmicks available, posting regularly, and engaging with people who comment on your post, and with those whom you comment on.

Use your insights to help you know what your audience find most interesting and engaging and to find out when is the best time to reach your maximum audience.

Instagram is a social media platform…so you must be sociable. You can’t just post and run and hope that what you post is seen.

If you found this helpful, please leave a comment below. And if you have any questions, please feel free to drop me an email –