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 –   

How to grow real followers on Instagram

In the early days of Instagram, it was the norm to buy followers, but although this might boost your followers in the short term, it’s a waste of time, as they aren’t your REAL followers – and they’re usually not your target audience. Real followers on your Instagram account are the people that engage with you and your business – your brand and care about what you post.

There are more than a billion active users on Instagram, which makes it one of the top four social networks worldwide.

The statistics

These stats sourced from

  • Monthly active users (MAUs) – 1 billion globally
  • Instagram daily active users (DAUs) – 500 million globally
  • Instagram stories reach 500 million per day
  • 23.92% of the 4.18 billion active mobile internet users access Instagram monthly – that’s the same amount of people that live in Europe and North America combined!
  • People spend an average of 29 minutes a day on Instagram

These stats are pretty mind-blowing, and in my opinion shout out loud and clear that using Instagram for business is a no-brainer.

As with any social media account, the downside is keeping track of everything, especially if you’re running your Instagram account as only a small part of your business. It can be very time consuming.

How to use Instagram for your business and grow your real followers  

  1. Make sure you are using an Instagram business account. If you’re not yet doing this, either start a new business account or switch from a personal account to a business account.
  2. Have an Instagram strategy. The first part of any strategy is to know your target audience – the people to whom your post and marketing is aimed at.

    – Look at who already buys from you
    – Check the insights on all your social media channels to find out who follows you – what are their age group, their demographics, psychographics and geographics. Read my previous blog on finding your target audience for more information.
    Research your competitors to find out if your audiences vary and why.
  3. Set goals and objectives. You need to think about how Instagram can help you achieve them. Make sure your goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

    Once you know what your goals are, you can focus on the different aspects of your strategy to lead your followers through the various stages of the customer journey.

    – Awareness of your business and brand  
    – Engagement with what you post, which you can measure by the number of likes, comments, and shares.
    – Conversion – how many people click through to your website, follow your CTAs (calls to action), click on your blog posts or your online shop, or subscribe to your email newsletter. This also covers any people who respond by clicking on your paid ads if you use them.
    Customer – this stage is based on the action that customers take, such as buying, repeat customers, retention of existing customer, recommendations etc.
  4. Plan your content in advance. This doesn’t have to be on a particular app, you can just plan it on paper or on a simple word document or spreadsheet.

    Once you know who your target audience is and you know what your goals are and how you want to achieve them, you can plan your posts, stories, reels, and videos in a more structured way. Having a plan means you can include dates or events that interest you – the big ones such as Christmas, Easter, or Halloween, as well as things that interest you, such as Hug your pet day, or National Cupcake Day. Just do a search on Google to find a relevant list of these dates and decide which ones you want to highlight.

    I also plan my content around the 80/20 rule – 80% of posts are about engaging, entertaining, educating and inspiring my audience – and 20% is about selling my services. You could choose to do a series of posts around a particular theme. For example, if you make something, you could run a series of ‘how to’ posts, using short video clips, and instructions with photos. These fall into all the 80% category!

    You can use video, memes, quotes, quizzes, ‘this or that,’ ask questions…the list is endless. And all of them are engaging your real followers and making them want to see more from you.
  5. Publish at the right time. You can look at your insights to find out when your followers are online and looking at Instagram. This tells you what days of the week and what time of day your followers are most active. Post at those times to get the most engagement.
  6. Create a fabulous bio. This is the first impression people get of you and your business, so make sure it tells your audience exactly who you are and what you do. There is very little time to make that good first impression. Show them why they should follow you. You only have 150 characters to do this, so keep it to the point and include some of your personality. Add a CTA, so people know what to do next – this could be a link to your website, blog or to your Linktree, where they have a choice of which link they’d like to go to next.

    For business, you should use the profile image – either a good shot of yourself or your logo – it’s up to you.

    Also, make use of the Story highlights. This is where you can have your stories organised into different collections – this could be one collection of products, about you, FAQs, hints, and tips – again the list is endless.
  7. Always share high quality content. Instagram is a highly visual platform so it’s crucial to organise your posts so that your audience will be able to instantly recognise that it’s you. There are several different grid layouts to choose from. Just search on Google for grid layouts and there are several great articles on the different types you can use. Using your brand colours and a good aesthetic will really help your business stand out from the crowd.

    Look at your competitors, look at businesses that are completely different to you and see what they do and how they organise their posts. Once you have decided, you can batch make posts and schedule them, so you don’t have to think about it too much once it’s done.
  8. Always write a caption. I do see several businesses that post fabulous images, but no caption. To me, the image doesn’t always mean something unless there is a caption. The caption explains your image in greater detail. Even if you’ve done a brilliant carousel post, where people swipe across several posts to find out more and more info, a caption is still needed to give a bit more information, or to ask a question to keep your audience engaged. Captions make your images more meaningful.
  9. Use stories. A survey carried out by Facebook in 2018 found that 58% of the participants became interested in a brand or product after seeing it in a story. It’s a great place to tell your brand stories, share reviews, share a bit about yourself and your business. You can engage your audience by using the many different features of stories, such as stickers, polls, etc. You can also use video and background music. If you’re consistent with your stories, you can get your audience into the habit of watching them regularly…and if they love what you do, they’ll be looking for your stories every day.
  10. Be consistent. You will hear this all the time, but whether you post every day (and you don’t have to), or post three times a week, make sure you are consistent, so your audience knows when you expect your posts.
  11. Always respond to comments, tags, or mentions. If someone takes the time to comment on a post or share your post and tag you in it, it’s only polite to acknowledge that fact. Always reply to comments and always reply to DMs. Taking the time to personally reply makes your audience feel valued. It can be time consuming, but it is so worth it. Another tip is to respond to the person by name if you can – it makes it more personal.
  12. Promote your Instagram account on your other channels. Instagram may not be your most popular channel, so if you have an established following on another channel, promote your Instagram account on that. Your regular followers will want to support you on Instagram as well. Try and vary the content between channels, so you are not constantly posting the same content…or at least do it in a slightly different order!
  13. Collaborate with other businesses. You can agree to engage with each other’s posts and share content to your stories. It does have to be relevant to your business, but this is a good way to get to other followers from a similar business to yours.
  14. Measure your success. When you use Instagram for your business, it’s really important to track your progress. Look at your insights to find out what kind of posts your audience is most interested in – what gives you more engagement.

    Look at how Instagram is helping you achieve your goals, and why some things work, and some don’t. It’s all a learning curve. Instagram’s insights only track the last 30 days, so you need to do this regularly and keep a note so you can compare future figures and facts.

Like all social media channels, Instagram is great for your small business if you use it properly and are consistent in what you do.

If you’d like to have a coaching session on Instagram, or would like a review of your profile, send me a message, or email me at