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How the Instagram Algorithm Works (And How to Use It to Your Advantage)

12 min read

Back in 2016, Instagram switched from displaying posts in your feed chronologically to an algorithmic method. This prioritizes content from the accounts you interact with that have the highest engagement levels.

The Instagram algorithm prevents users from drowning in an endless stream of content: only posts with high engagement make it to followers’ feeds. Want to make sure each of your posts is seen, liked and shared? Read on to start using the algorithm to your advantage when selling on Instagram.

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How Does the Instagram Algorithm Work in 2020?

Here are the factors that Instagram’s algorithm considers when prioritizing posts in a feed:

  • Interest — based on your past engagement with similar content, Instagram algorithm predicts if you’re going to enjoy this post
  • Relationship — how close you are to the person who shared the post (based on how often you interact with their profile in the past)
  • Recency — how recently the post was shared
  • Frequency — how often you open Instagram
  • Following — if you follow a lot of profiles, the platform will show posts from a wider scope of accounts
  • Usage — the app takes into account if you stick to short sessions, or spend more total time browsing.

As you can see, Instagram algorithm takes into account your past behavior to create a unique feed for you. To ensure you’re enjoying your personalized feed, the app also prioritizes the content with most engagement.

Tips from the platform itself (Image: Instagram’s @creators)

The most important engagements for feed ranking are comments, likes, shares, and also views for video posts. Fake interactions (such as comments from bots) are identified and don’t count.

How to get more interactions for your content?

You’ve learned that interactions (likes, shares, comments, views) are vital for showing Instagram algorithm that your content is compelling. In other words, it is worth displaying to bigger audiences. So how do you create content that people want to engage with?

Here’s how encourage audience engagement on Instagram:

  • Check Instagram Insights to find out when your followers are most active and use this data to maintain your posting schedule. Post frequently and consistently.
  • Use Stories Stickers like polls, emoji sliders, or question stickers.
  • Write captions that promote conversations and include a call-to-action at the end. For example, ask your audience to share their thoughts and ideas, then reply to your follower’s comments.
  • Share a preview of your IGTV video to your feed and stories to get more views.
  • Use hashtags to reach audiences relevant for your brand and categorize your posts.
  • Encourage your followers to react to your stories with quick emojis.
  • Invite your followers to DM you with their questions or feedback.
  • Use geotags to make your content easier to discover.
  • Post stories several times a day to appear at the top of your follower’s stories feed.

How to Create Engaging Content for Instagram

Your marketing strategy, storytelling elements and the visual concept of your profile can have a strong impact on your feed ranking. Here’s how to ensure it affects your position in a positive way.

Marketing strategy

Algorithmic feeds mean you face more competition. Those who manage to post what is really interesting to the audience will win, so how do we understand what interests our followers?

First, switch to a business profile to get access to your profile analytics. This is called your Instagram Insights. The insight tool will help you understand who is engaging with your business on this platform and which content gets the most interactions from your followers. Pay attention to which posts, stories and IGTV are performing better and create more content that fits the bill of what’s working.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to analyze your competition to see what potential followers find engaging. Follow these 5 steps:

  1. Analyze content of competitors’ accounts on Instagram, as well as other social media.
  2. Analyze your competitors’ audience and learn what other pages they follow (including those that are not connected with your brand’s sphere). You can use analytics tools like Quick Sprout to accomplish this.
  3. After you’ve analyzed your target audience’s sphere of interest, go back to Instagram and look for popular profiles on these topics. Analyze them with the help of this tool to find the best pictures (measured by likes) and best texts (measured by comments). This is how you understand what content you should post to appear at the top of everyone’s feed.
  4. Look for popular Instagram bloggers on these topics to get the best examples for posts.
  5. Put it all together to create a content plan that will rock!

Learn more: Social Media Strategy for Small Businesses [With Templates]

@olderparis feed is a mix of product posts, company news, behind the scenes, and lookbooks


Think of the accounts you personally follow. What do they have in common? All of them have something to tell you, and it’s not just that “jeans are 20% off.” They use pictures and text to craft a story and make you feel like you are a part of it.

To gain and retain followers, you need to form a connection that goes beyond people just being interested in your updates. After all, you’re competing for space alongside your follower’s closest friends and the people they care to see the news from first!

So be a friend! Be a personality. You don’t have to post your products all day every day. The aim is to create emotional connection. “Storytelling is patterned cognitive play,” says Brian Boyd, author of The Origin of Stories.

Silk ribbons store @heyitsohsopretty shares pictures of their customers’ special occasions

There are many ways you can shape your story. Try to find answers to these questions to get started:

  • Why did your company appear?
  • How did your product idea appear?
  • What is your message to the world?
  • What types of customers find value in working with your brand and why?
  • What is the deepest view into the people behind the company?
  • What is the concept that underscores your entire web presence?
  • How does your product work in real life with different people?
  • What is the general mood of your brand?
  • What are the common areas your followers can be interested in?

You can add to the list as your story goes on and on. Fix the answers in any form you like — pictures on the wall, a short story in your notebook, or even a sketch. But emphasize clarity. You want to be as clear as possible.

It’s important that the idea and the message of your brand are easy to get not only by your followers, but for everyone in your team. Then you will never lack appropriate photos to post: your team will be creating content together.

Remember that your story must go along with your audience’s interests and values. Nobody reads grownup books to children. There’s no sense in attracting a vegetarian audience by telling them about a hunter’s life.

The same goes for partnering with other brands and influencers. Collaborate with companies and creatives whose followers have the same interests as you. People are more likely to subscribe to your profile after they see your collaboration post if it is something that genuinely interests them.

Art & design studio @bohoartandstyling collaborated with a creative designer @phoenixandtheocean

Visual concept

Now that you’ve imagined a colorful picture of what your brand is, think of a visual strategy for conveying it.

An appealing Instagram profile has these indicators:

  • It looks like a big picture. Every picture is posted with its account’s other pictures in mind. Some special elements (colors, lines, perspective, mood) ties them together.
  • It has a theme: it retains your profile as a whole piece of art. Either it is moody and dark, or minimalistic, or pastel, or bright and colorful, or something else entirely. Whatever this theme is, keep to it every time you post.
  • It has a strategy: every post reveals a thought from the header that leads to an active link to your store.

Don’t forget the videos — they will help to highlight the mood and to show your products from every side. Post video stories, make IGTV videos, or use apps like Boomerang or Hyperlapse to express your ideas.

@ousiai_jewellery feed has minimalistic visual theme

Also: How to Develop a Visual Theme for Your Instagram Business Profile

More Tips for Brands on Instagram

Having an Instagram account for business is a pleasure. After you get used to the process it will only take you a few moments to prepare content and to post it.

Check out our tips for using Instagram business tools to take advantage of everything the platform has to offer. If built-in features aren’t enough for your profile, check out these Instagram apps. They will help you schedule your posts, to analyze your insights, and to improve the quality of your images.

If you’re looking for copyright-free images to complement your visual concept, check out our collection of free photo sources.

Mastered your Instagram profile already? Tag your pics with #ecwid_store so that we can feature you on our page!

Do you want to learn more about selling on Instagram?

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About the author

Kristen is a сontent creator at Ecwid. She finds inspiration in sci-fi books, jazz music, and home-cooked food.

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