How Instagram’s Algorithm Really Works

Dress – Asos | Sunglasses – Primark (old) – Bag – Michael Kors

I’m bored of it. I’m bored of Instagram. I feel like I get a really good week of followers, engagement, impressions and then with the good comes the bad. Like one big shit storm. Last week I went from getting an average of 100-130 likes per photo to jaw-droppingly low 80-90 likes per photo. What am I doing wrong? Is it my content? Is it the time of day I post? WHAT IS IT?

I really do try and check my self before I wreck myself with the likes of social media because it’s very superficial, however, it’s difficult not to get yourself wrapped up in it all especially as a blogger. When it comes to my personal account away from Zest Of Alice, I couldn’t care less about likes, or a theme, I post because I love my images and love using the app. With my blogging Instagram, it’s starting to feel like a chore.

Us bloggers moan constantly about Instagram and well since I work in the land of digital marketing and social media, I thoughts lets delve into this. Let’s find out how Instagram really works.

It’s official. Instagram is at the forefront of social media these days, what with its billion users base and its incredible potential to keep users engaged. While Instagram shouts out about the fact it’s a great place to earn interactions, some essential questions remain from us bloggers. What exactly defines engagement on the platform? How can we best utilise it to reach new people?

What makes Instagram so engaging anyway?

1. Instagram’s algorithm favours their idea of ‘relevant’ content to you as a user.

According to an Instagram’s spokesman, Instagram feed ranking is “constantly adapting and improving based on data” to give users the best possible experience. In June 2016 the company decided to ditch the reverse chronological feed much to bloggers fears, in favour of an algorithmic one. Apparently, it led to Instagram users seeing 90% of their friends’ posts, as opposed to missing 50% of them prior to the update. It baffles me that they can claim this because personally I certainly haven’t seen or felt the uplift?

2. We’re all spending an insane amount of time on the platform

According to Insta’ data, users under the age of 25 spend over 32 minutes a day using the platform, while users 25 and overspend more than 24 minutes daily on the app. In contrast to Facebook, time spent on Instagram is increasing. This means users stay on the app longer, which makes it more likely for them to discover interesting content and interact with it.

3. Visual content is king. End of.

Instagram is founded on attractive images and videos, which resonate with people more than text. In fact, as much as 40% of people respond better to visual than textual information which is something I can totally agree with as I’m definitely more of a visual gal.

4. Instagram lets the creative juices flow

Instagram now has a long list of additional features to help improve our reach like Stories, IGTV aside from its successful news feed that keeps users engaged.

So this is how Instagram’s algorithm really works…

If you’re like most bloggers, you’re probably desperate to know the secret to go viral, I mean I definitely am.

The key is to understand the algorithm, whose mechanics the company has kept secret for years however during recent press conferences Instagram has finally shed a tiny bit off light on the way posts appear in users’ news feeds. It’s no surprise that it’s almost the same as how the Facebook algorithm works which is all about how we signal our actions on the platform.

There are six main factors impacting the content of users’ Instagram feeds:

  •  Interest

Based on how we’ve previously interacted with content, Instagram predicts how much users will care about a post and ranks it accordingly high, very similarly to Facebook.

  • Recency

Newer content will appear higher than the old content.

  • Relationships

Posts from people you frequently interacted or were tagged in pictures with in the past will appear higher in the feed. So for example when my boyfriend posts on Instagram I’m much more likely to see his posts first on my feed when I use the app.

  • Frequency

Depending on how often you use Instagram, the app will show you the top posts published since your last visit. They’ve recently introduced a ‘You’re All Caught Up’ feature too since the last time you checked which is handy I must admit.

  • Following

If you’re following a lot of people, Instagram will pick content from a larger selection of people as opposed to focusing on a single person.

  • Usage

    Similar to frequency, if you use Instagram for a few short sessions, it will show you only the top content since your last visit. If you spend more time during a single session on the app, it will add other posts to the mix.

All of these factors play a major role in deciding where in the news feed your content will appear. Frequency or usage, are kind of beyond brands’ control and depend solely on the way their audiences use Instagram. Other factors are in our control, though like if you can score higher in the interest and relationship category if you get users to frequently interact with your posts.

As well as revealing what factors can help you gain reach, they also decided to put an end to some rumours. Here’s what the Instagram algorithm is not doing:

  • Hiding posts in the news feed
  • Favouring videos over photos (they do this with Facebook so it was clear to see why people would make this assumption!)
  • Upranking posts from users using Instagram-specific content formats, such as Stories
  • Downranking users for publishing too often
  • Giving more exposure to personal or business accounts specifically
  • Shadow banning (shocking, I actually believed they did that!)

And lastly, taking all of this into consideration, here’s how I’m going to smash the algorithm moving forward…


1. Be me. Be unapologetically me. Instead of making my profile all about ads or reviews, I’m going to try to show more of my ‘real-life’. Publishing behind-the-scenes posts will hopefully make users more interested in me and more relatable so that might encourage them to interact more.

2. Mix up formats. I think I might try a new ‘theme’ y’know. I also want to use more of Instagram’s facilities such as Live and Boomerang videos or Stories.

3. Interact with other users. If I want engagement, I need to engage with other people, we’re all in the same boat. I need to show Instagram who I want to see on my feeds and signal to them!

4. Use a variety of hashtags. I’m going to change up my hashtags instead of using the same ones over and over.

5. Publish my content in the morning. Mornings seem to be the best times for me to post, I get way better engagement first thing rather than on an afternoon.


  • Cora @ Tea Party Princess August 29, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Fab post 🙂
    I always try and be myself (ish) on instagram, and this past two weeks my engagement has tanked and likes have halved, which hurts when you’re small 🙁
    Cora |

    • Alice August 29, 2018 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks Cora! I feel your pain girl!

  • Rosie August 29, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Suuuch a helpful post. I honestly feel like Insta is against me sometimes. I’m losing followers left right and centre and my engagement is down so as of now I am going to follow your amazing tips and see if I can change it up!
    Looking beautiful also girl!

    • Alice August 29, 2018 at 1:09 pm

      I’m the same, it’s so frustrating. Thank you so much!

  • Sarah Sullivan August 29, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    thats really useful information, it all sort of went over my head really, I just like posting pictures, you look amazing in that dress!

  • Gee August 29, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Instagram is a funny one isn’t it! It’s by far the hardest platform to grow I reckon and like you I have times where my photos do well then the next minute they dive bomb it’s so frustrating! X

    • Alice August 30, 2018 at 10:12 am

      I totally agree! So annoying x

  • Carina August 29, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Beautiful photos! And great post! I so miss Instagram’s chronological order! And I’m exactly the same with likes, I don’t care about my personal account, but when it comes to the blog, one can’t help but want to see it grow so when your likes suddenly drop by an average of 40 or so it makes you wonder what you are doing wrong!?! Thanks for sharing your take on this 🙂 xo

    • Alice August 30, 2018 at 10:13 am

      Thank you so much! I totally agree, so annoying, isn’t it! Pleased you enjoyed the post! x

  • Maisie August 29, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    This was such an insightful read! I’m deffo going to be taking all of this on board going forward! I too have recently been thinking about how I can share more “me” and behind the scenes stuff! x

    • Alice August 30, 2018 at 10:13 am

      Thanks Maisie, pleased you enjoyed! Hope it works! x

  • Kelly-Anne August 29, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    I’m pretty much over growing on IG at the moment. It’s too hard to grow now. Perhaps I’ll start loving it again soon. Great post and great advice.

    • Alice August 30, 2018 at 10:14 am

      I agree it’s so hard to stay focused! Thank you and I’m pleased you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Katrina Frances August 30, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    This post was a very interesting one to read! I’m definitely going to take a few tips away from this x

  • Gemma Louise August 30, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    So weird to read this as I’ve literally just published a post on Instagram, engaging to receive engagement is my biggest tip for Insta, people seem to expect engagement when they aren’t actually engaging themselves which is ridiculous! x

    • Alice September 3, 2018 at 9:15 am

      I totally agree! You only get what you give! x

  • Taylor Rowley August 31, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Instagram is definitely frustrating, your post was great, it was interesting to see the inside working of the platform though! I’m definitely using the platform more for fun now, and just uploading when I want and keeping up with people stories! x

    • Alice September 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

      I agree, I’m trying to take it less seriously and start enjoying it again! x

  • Chloe - New Girl in Toon August 31, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Grrr Instagram I LOVE it so much, yet at the same time I hate it! I was going to go back through your photos and like some more after reading this but then realised I’ve already liked them because I really LOVE your photographs, I’ve always thought you should have more followers! I think for whatever reason, if you didn’t get your Instagram following high in the early days it makes it very very hard now!

    I try very hard to focus on the good things about Instagram which in my mind are: I discover fantastic places in my local area thanks to Instagram and I’ve met some genuine lovely local people through my photographs who I chat to on a daily basis! I love interacting on there, I feel like I have a little gang of likeminded people to talk to and it’s so lovely!

    • Alice September 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

      Aw thank you Chloe, that’s so lovely to hear. I love how you use the platform you inspire me to start enjoying it more! Your feed is so fun and colourful! x

  • Shauna September 1, 2018 at 10:48 am

    This was such a helpful post! Thank you so much for going into so much depth and detail! Also, that outfit is absolutely amazing!

    Shauna |

    • Alice September 3, 2018 at 9:17 am

      Really pleased you’ve found it useful x

  • Jade Wilson September 1, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    Instagram is bitter sweet for me! My biggest pet peeve is the follow un-follow game! This is a brilliant post! Thank you!

    • Alice September 3, 2018 at 9:17 am

      I hate that too! Thank you Jade 🙂

  • Cally September 3, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    This is a great post Alice! I’ve definitely got a love hate relationship with Instagram and it’s doing my head in!!
    Love, Cally x

    • Alice September 4, 2018 at 8:47 am

      Thanks Cally! I totally agree! x

  • Lauren-J Cole September 10, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    Such a helpful post! The algorithm gets a lot of people, including me, down! As long as we’re all having fun and engaging with other people that’s the main thing – and we can only pray Instagram realises what we all want!

    Lauren |

    • Alice September 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks Lauren, really pleased you found this of use! It’s very hard isn’t it!

  • Hayley Williams September 21, 2018 at 7:12 am

    Such a useful read! I find myself over thinking what to post and sometimes that leads to not posting at all! Sounds quite silly really. Definitely bookmarking this xx

    • Alice September 24, 2018 at 8:25 am

      Thanks Hayley! Hope you find these tips helpful! x

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