Easy-to-Understand Guide to Instagram Algorithms 2021

This year, get ahead of the Instagram algorithm by understanding the newest features. Your account may perform better by using new features…

With 1 billion monthly active users world wide on Instagram, you’re competing with a lot of people to get your organic content seen. By understanding how Instagram ranks posts, you can ensure your efforts don’t go to waste.

There are 6 key points to understanding the Instagram algorithm in 2021, and you’re going to learn how to utilise them to your advantage here in this article. If you find the information useful, be sure to give it a share.

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash.

Here’s a summary of how to see and understand your post insights:


How the Instagram Algorithm Works in 2021

Instagram has algorithms with the aim to give users the best experience possible. Posts with higher engagement are more likely to be recommended for other users by Instagram, as Instagram recognises others have liked that post. 

Instagram’s feed ranking algorithm is based on 6 key points; interest, recency, relationship, frequency, following and usage.


1. Interest.

Essentially, your Instagram feed is made up of all your previous behaviours on the app. The content and accounts you interact with and search for and the people you’re tagged in photos with make up your feed by telling the algorithm what you like.

Interest is one of the most important factors for an Instagram post’s ranking. If Instagram thinks a user will like a post, they’ll show it at the top of their feed. The algorithm predicts this by your past behaviours. For example, if you’ve interacted highly with a certain account previously, it’s likely its posts will be shown at a high position on your feed. This also means the algorithm will try to find content similar to content you have engaged with in the past and recommend it to you.

This means being active on Instagram not only gives your audience more content to engage with, but also sends positive signals to the algorithm. Therefore, being more active on Instagram can boost your presence on the platform, giving your posts and account more potential to be seen by your audience.


2. Timeliness.

Timing is a key factor for Instagram posts. More recent posts will be ranked higher than older posts to help users see the freshest and most relevant content. 

If you have an Instagram business account, the app can tell you when your audience is most active, giving you optimal times to post. However, make sure to test this and trial different times and see what posts receive the most engagement. A good way to test your optimal posting times is to start with a schedule for a couple weeks at a time, changing the times you post (morning, midday, evening and night) to see which posts get the most engagement.


3. Relationship.

The third key Instagram algorithm factor in 2021 is your relationship with the account that shared the post. If you have a close relationship with that person (e.g. tagged in posts together, commenting on each other’s posts, etc.), then their posts will be ranked higher on your feed. This is because Instagram wants to rank posts from family, friends and accounts you like highly to satisfy the user. 

Furthermore, Instagram’s algorithm will test how much you like a user you recently followed by showing their content at the top of your feed and analysing if you interact with it. This is why it’s also important to be engaging with your audience regularly to help them find and engage with you.


4. Frequency.

Instagram’s algorithm recognises how frequently you post another top criteria. It measures how frequently you use the app and will determine the order of your feed in one of two ways:


Frequent Instagram users will receive a chronological feed. This is because when visiting the app on a regular basis, the algorithm will then show you posts you haven’t yet seen since you were last on the app. It will also rank these posts by what it believes you will think is the most exciting post.


Less frequent scrollers may receive a feed that’s organised by what Instagram thinks you will like.


5. Following.

The more people you follow on Instagram, the more content there is to choose from, meaning you may see less of individual accounts on your feed. On the other hand, if your followers are inactive, then instagram may rank your account lower, as it may label inactive users as bots or ghost followers.

Buying fake followers.

While more people following you is a good thing, buying fake followers can be very damaging to your account; you may remember the famous 2014 case where Justin Bieber lost 3.5 million followers after Instagram started culling fake accounts. Besides the fact that you will likely lose most of these accounts since Instagram tries to remove them, it also damages your engagement rates. This is because you will have more followers, but not more engagements, so your engagement rates may drop tremendously.


6. Usage.

How much time you spend on Instagram tells the algorithm how much content you’re seeing. Users spending a short time on the app will only get a highlight of top posts, while users spending longer sessions will dive deeper into the feed, seeing more posts the app can serve you, based on what you like.

Those not following many accounts may view all new content. In this case, Instagram will display recommendations of other accounts or content to interact with.


Instagram Stories Algorithm

Instagram stories are also based on the accounts you like and engage with the most. Once again, Instagram determines this by tracking which accounts you comment, view, direct message, like or react to the most. 

The same metrics for Instagram feeds apply for stories, and newest and most-liked accounts will be shown to you first. However, even if you’ve viewed someone’s previous stories, their newest ones will still be at the front of your feed.

This means posting often on Instagram stories is good for reaching viewers who watch stories daily. It may also help make your account more recommended in addition to helping with brand awareness by giving potential followers (and customers) another pathway to find your account and see extra content. Therefore, the more viewers you have, the higher you will rank.


Instagram Reels Algorithm

Instagram reels are one of Instagram’s newest features, launched in August 2020. Similar to TikTok, users can edit and post 15 second video clips. 

After this feature was released, multiple users noticed their views and other engagements rapidly increased after using reels. Naomi Praise (@naohms on Instagram) is an influencer on Instagram who claims, “Instagram always favours users who use their new features right when they come out. They will push your Reels up the algorithm more than they will your regular posts.”

While it makes sense that Instagram would promote users who use the app’s newest features, Instagram claims they don’t boost users using specific features. Either way, it’s worth testing out this feature and seeing how it impacts your reach and insights.


Instagram Shopping Algorithm

Instagram Shopping is a relatively new feature, which began with shoppable tags. It now allows users to check out using the app. However, only US users can checkout in Instagram; Aussies, patience. 

Australian users can still use shoppable tags, which is essentially tagging items in a photo with a price tag, which when clicked can take users to the relative website. Although Australians are yet to have the ability to make in-app purchases — AKA Instagram Checkout — it’s worth understanding and keeping this feature in mind so you know how to use it if we do eventually get it in Australia.


If you need help with your digital marketing, you can speak to one of our award-nominated Digital Marketing Specialists near you. Head to business.localsearch.com.au to get started. 

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      Chloe Thistle

      Junior Marketing Administrator

      Chloe Thistle is a Junior Marketing Administrator at Localsearch, bringing her talents and background in digital and social media marketing to her role. She has sharpened her marketing skills across many different industries, including entertainment, fashion and in the B2B field. In her spare time, Chloe can be found either lounging at the beach or five coffees deep at one of her favourite local cafés. No stranger to adventures, she’s trekked to Mt. Everest Base Camp — fueled by coffee of course — has completed the Kokoda Challenge and is always looking for the next mountain to climb! Chloe loves looking for ways to combine her passions for adventure, sustainability and marketing, always chasing the latest trends in both marketing and fashion. Now, she’s utilising her vast life and digital marketing experience to blog and assist in the content with the Localsearch Marketing Team.