I’ve written an update to this article that extends the conversation. Consider the article below the foundation for the updated article. I recommend you read them both!
How does Instagram determine what photos make the popular page? Well, I’m hear to tell you exactly how to do it. Actually, I’ll let the good folks from Instagram tell you in their own words. Want to make the Popular Page on Instagram? Here’s how:
We use a special formula to determine which photos make it to the Popular feed. The goal of the formula is to surface the most recently interesting photos based on a variety of variables. We do not simply count likes. It takes into account much more than that to make sure new people with fewer followers also have the chance of being discovered. We’re constantly tweaking this formula in hopes of surfacing some of the most interesting content from the Instagram community.
Hmmm. Clear as mud, right? Sorry, about that – I know that was cruel. Promise something and then not deliver! So let me share with you everything that I know, and maybe it will help. Before I do, I have to point out that the very best way to make the Popular Page on Instagram is to take great photos. If you are taking really crummy pictures, you aren’t likely to make the Instagram Popular Page no matter how hard you try.
So here’s the deal – there is an algorithm – I promise you that – but we just don’t know what it is. Since making the Popular Page is determined by a computer executing code, it has to do so using math. If we can crack the formula, we can find the secret! (Just so you know before reading any further, I don’t actually know what the formula is, and if I did discover it, as stated before, Instagram changes the formula on a regular basis so it wouldn’t be true for very long anyway.)
I tried to reverse engineer the formula by tracking my own successes and failures on Instagram. The trick to being able to do this analysis is to actually have some photos that make the popular page. This proves to be harder than you may think! Eventually, I was able to get enough photos to the popular page, to do some analysis. Over a period of three weeks, I posted 18 total images and got 4 photos on the popular page. To date I have gotten a total of 10 photos to the Popular Page, but I only did analysis on some of them. Here’s some numbers:
8:45 AM | 316 | 102 | 32%
8:00 AM | 410 | 58 | 14%
8:00 AM | 423 | 67 | 16%
8:15 AM | 465 | 95 | 20%
The columns in the above table are the time the photo was posted, my total followers at the time of the posting, how many Likes the photo received in the first hour, and the percentage of likes to total followers in that first hour. I also took a few notes along the way. Two of the above photos made the popular page after receiving 43 likes in the first 40 minutes. Another one made the popular page after receiving 50 likes in the first 30 minutes.
The number of likes received in the first hour is important. The first 30 minutes of the photo may be even more important. However, it isn’t just based on a pure Like count. If it were, then everyone with 1000 or more followers would make the Popular Page on Instagram with every photo! I know that isn’t happening. I believe the threshold for Like count is based on some percentage of your followers. In my study, I never had a photo make the Popular Page on Instagram that averaged 10% or less. Therefor, I think it is safe to say that you must receive better than 10% Likes to Followers within the first 30 – 40 minutes. How much better? My lowest percentage was 10.17%.
I’ve heard it suggested that you actually have to outdo yourself once you make the popular page for the first time. Meaning, if you make the popular page with 45 likes in 40 minutes then you have to get more than 45 likes within that same period on your next photo and that the bar keeps getting higher and higher. I personally don’t think that is true. I had two photos make it with the exact number of likes within the exact number of minutes on two different days.
As I’ve gotten more followers, it has actually gotten harder for me to make the popular page. I think that is due to the fact that I still have to get over 10% likes within that 30 – 40 minute window but a lot of my followers are stealth followers. They follow me without liking a single image, or making a single comment, and I never hear from them again. Those aren’t followers, those are Zombies and they are actually hurting you, not helping you. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do about it unless you want to go about blocking all those people. That’s up to you, but I haven’t done it personally.
In addition to the percentage of likes within what I’m going to call the “Like Window”, I think there is actually a minimum number of Likes you have to get as well. Why? Because if you have only 10 followers then you could, in theory, get to the Popular Page with only 2 likes! (2 likes with 10 followers is 20%, well above the required 10%+ mark.) Thus, I believe there is an enforced minimum. The fewest number of likes I’ve ever received in making it to the Popular Page is 43. That’s a weird minimum so I’m guessing it is more likely 30 – 40 likes.
So what do we think we know then?
- You have to average better than 10% likes to followers for the first 40 minutes.
- You have to receive a certain minimum number of likes (likely at least 30).
- The first 40 minutes is critical to making the Popular Page.
- It is possible to make the Popular Page within the first 30 minutes of posting your image.
It appears from my studies that if you hit 20% likes in the first 30 minutes of your image’s life on Instagram you’ll make the Popular Page within 30 minutes. If you achieve a little better than 10% within the first 40 minutes, you’ll make the Popular Page. In both cases, you have to get at least 30 likes (probably).
One last thing. The length of time you stay on the Popular Page is based on the number of likes you receive once you are there. I’ve had a photo make the Popular Page and only get 10 or so more likes once there. That photo didn’t stay Popular for more than 30 minutes. I’ve also gotten a photo on the Popular Page that got over 100 likes once it got there and it stayed on the Popular Page for over an hour, probably about 2 hours total. What should you take way from that little tidbit of information? Just making the Popular Page isn’t going to guarantee you get a slew of new followers. I have picked up as few as 3 or 4 followers after making the Popular Page. So don’t knock yourself out trying to get there. And don’t think it’ll give you over night success on Instagram if you do get there. Focus on learning the craft of photography and apping, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Ask your followers to really tell you what they think. Take a lot of pictures and only post your best!
Now that you have a solid foundation for understanding the Instagram Popular Page formula, you can continue reading my newest article on the same topic that covers new elements effecting your photos and their chances of making the popular page.
You may also like the Instagram article I wrote: 8 Rules for Rapid Instagram Growth. I’m @appdaptation on Instagram. If you like what you’ve read on this blog, consider popping by and saying hello on Instagram!