The Instagram Algorithm: An E-commerce Guide

Nowadays, it has become compulsory to advertise your business on social media. As a matter of fact, this is one of the most effective approaches to marketing.

Still, marketing comes with its range of challenges. For one thing, each social media platform has its specific algorithms, which can make it quite difficult for businesses to accomplish their targets. Instagram, in particular, changes its algorithm on a constant basis.

Before we try to comprehend the way in which the algorithm works, we’d like to point out the reasons why you should consider promoting your business on this platform.

First, the number of Instagram users is continually increasing, indicating that people are attracted to this platform. Most notably, 68 percent of Instagram followers engage on a regular basis with brands. On the other hand, only 38 percent of Facebook users engage with brands. This outlines a major difference between these two, highlighting the marketing potential that Instagram holds.

In truth, the engagement ratio on Instagram is eight times higher than on any other platform. Plus, Instagram is yet to become oversaturated with a significant number of marketers.

The New Instagram Algorithm Limits the Visibility of the Posts

Instagram algorithm

Still, what is it about the Instagram algorithm that more and more people complain about it? Theoretically, Instagram has changed its algorithm in order to show only the best posts. At the same time, this means that it actually restricts the visibility of other posts. This is where the problem comes in.

According to Kevin Systrom, the Instagram co-founder and CEO, people miss no less than 70 percent of the posts in their Instagram feeds. Supposedly, the motivation behind this is for Instagram users to see the best posts only.

Understanding How the Instagram Algorithm Works

Moving on to how the algorithm actually works, it is mainly determined by how relevant a post is to the user, as well as the time of the posting. With that in mind, one thing you should take into consideration is that the posts don’t appear in chronological order. Instead, they appear depending on the user’s interest in that type of content.

However, when we’re talking about the Instagram algorithm, we’re referring to the algorithm that commands whether your followers see your posts or not.

Why Was the Instagram Algorithm Changed?

In the beginning, Instagram posts would appear in chronological order – which was pretty logical. Therefore, when this changed, it was quite expected that many users voiced their complaints on the matter.

However, the motivation behind this change was to make sure that people see what they are interested in. In other words, if your best friend posts a picture, you won’t miss it, regardless of the hour at which it was posted.

Furthermore, another reason why Instagram’s feed isn’t chronological anymore is that the founders of the application want to provide a positive experience for their users so that they stock to the platform. At the end of the day, their priority is to make sure that the app is used regularly.

At the same time, this supposedly has to freshen up your feed, ensuring that whatever interests you will show up on your feed. This sounds pretty familiar with Facebook’s approach, doesn’t it?

The Similarities between Facebook and Instagram

Instagram and facebook

It should come as no surprise that there are some similarities between Facebook and Instagram, as the latter platform is actually owned by Facebook. What they have in common is that the goal of both platforms is to facilitate the connection of their users with their friends and family.

For example, when you enter Facebook, the first things you’ll observe on your news feed are posts belonging to your closest family members and friends. To that end, these posts will appear higher up in your news feed.

Still, as a business owner trying to promote your company on social media, this can complicate the scenario a bit (or a lot). Because of these algorithms, your content is less likely to be seen.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should give up and not use such a valuable tool as Instagram. On the contrary, it means that you have to customize your strategy while considering these specifications.

Updating Your Strategic Approach to Instagram Marketing

Considering Instagram’s algorithm changes, for your posts to be seen, a golden rule is that they generate engagement. Of course, engagement is translated in likes and comments.

At the same time, considering that it can be a huge challenge to grow your business account organically and generate engagement, it would be a good idea to reach out to influencers or, perhaps, invest in ads.

That is not all, though; people are keen on consistency, which is why branding your images is a strategy that works – on Instagram, at the very least.

Considering the algorithm changes, these approaches are likely to work, for now.

How to Generate Engagement on Instagram?

Whether a post will appear in someone’s feed or not depends on several aspects. These are the most important ones –

  • Choosing the Right Timing

Choose the right time to post

Even if the posts aren’t shown in chronological order, this doesn’t exclude the importance of timing. We’re talking about the right timing for posting on social media.

Now, let’s say that you own an online store. In this case, then you are likely to have customers from all over the world. At the same time, the more popular your brand becomes, the more time zones you’ll have to factor in when it comes to choosing the right timing for your posts.

For example, this is why some influencers and brands might choose to send the same message at different times, depending on the time zone. Still, the ideal scenario is to reach to your audience without the need to send multiple messages.

The question you should answer is: in which countries are your customers located? If your target audience is in the US or Canada, then you should choose the EST time zone. That’s because major cities such as Toronto and New York are located in this time zone. Nevertheless, in case your target audience is situated in London, then you might consider the GMT zone.

To that end, you should always do your homework and see where your followers are from. At the same time, even if your post goes out at 3 am for some followers, Instagram still rewards popular content, irrespective of the time when it was posted.

What about the best days of the week for posting?

As you might expect, there are some rules in this respect, as well. The best days of the week for posting on Instagram are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sundays, the rate of engagement is quite low. Meanwhile, Wednesdays seem to have the highest rates of engagement.

Concurrently, during lunchtime or after work are believed to be the best times for posting, as well. That’s because most people don’t use the platform during working hours, considering that they log in on Instagram via their mobiles.

  • Make Your Content Shareable

It’s as simple as this: when more users consider sharing your content, this outlines their interest in your posts. This is why you should make a priority out of this. According to the new Instagram algorithm, when someone has shown interest in your brand, he/she will see more posts from your account.

Expressly, you should make your content shareable. How do you do that, though? The overall look of the account matters, in this respect.

Instagram is a platform that concentrates a lot on aesthetics. This means you can exploit this and make your account visually appealing. That is to say, the photos should be part of a story – preferably your brand’s story. Also, they should be relevant to your activity.

At the same time, the editing style and layout shouldn’t be overlooked. If you were to analyze the Instagram accounts of famous brands, you would notice that they have one thing in common: they create consistent imagery throughout their accounts. This plays a fundamental role in creating trust and increasing your numbers of followers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all your focus and strategies should go on promoting your business. In fact, it is a good idea to diversify your content. For instance, let’s take Nike. Even if Nike, as a brand, concentrates on fitness and sports, now and then, it posts about mental focus, self-development, happiness, strength, and so on.

  • Increasing Your Base of Followers

Typically, if a user interacts with an account, then he/she is likely to see posts from that account. This brings us to the controversial topic of getting followers. Since growing an account organically is so challenging, more and more businesses buy fake followers, which is a frowned upon practice.

When you buy fake followers, those accounts won’t interact with you. That is to say, they won’t like your pictures, comment or share your posts. As a result, buying fake followers is a practice that gives you only the number, as opposed to giving you the chance to connect with a specific audience.

Hence, you should say no to this tactic, as appealing as it may seem at first when you’re struggling to grow your account. Try to grow your profile organically and have a real base of followers that will interact with your brand and will help you grow even further.

  • Using the Right Hashtags


A safe way of getting more followers is the use of hashtags. Still, it’s worth adding that the use of right hashtags will increase your visibility, meaning that more people will stumble upon your posts. If they like what you have to offer, they might hit the follow button. At the same time, make sure that your hashtags are specific for your niche.

There’s no use in including a multitude of hashtags that are irrelevant to what you do. Another piece of advice would be to avoid generic hashtags, such as #picoftheday – these are too popular, and your posts will get lost under that hashtag, and no one will seem them.

It’s also important to try to interact with other accounts, as well. And this doesn’t necessarily mean promoting your brand in your comments. When a question is asked, try answer it as best as you can, as opposed to trying to promote a sales pitch. In time, as you continue following accounts in your niche and engaging with them, you’ll manage to create a strong following base.

What about Ads and Influencers?

Without a doubt, the strategies we presented above take time, patience and resources. Growing an account organically can take months – if you have a suitable strategy. However, if you want to quicken things a bit, then you could choose to advertise your brand by paying for ads or by collaborating with influencers.

Instagram Ads

Regardless of the place where you’re planning to run a campaign, the good thing is that Instagram is quite straightforward when it comes to creating ads. In fact, you can create these ads in the same way in which you would normally build Facebook ads or campaigns.

Before posting the ad, you’ll get a preview, to see whether it looks as you want it to. For example, if you choose for the ad to appear in people’s feeds, it will look, for the most part, like a typical Instagram post – apart from the fact that it will display the word sponsored. On the other hand, you might choose to display your ads on Instagram stories. This means you can choose the video format, which has been proven to generate optimal rates of engagement.

After running your ads for a while, you can point out their efficacy level, to determine whether this approach works for you or not.

  • Who Sees My Ads on Instagram?

How does Instagram decide who should see your ads? This is, of course, a sensible question. All websites across the Internet that run an e-commerce store – yours included – have Facebook tracking running in the background of each individual page. In fact, Facebook tracking has become so widespread that Shopify has created an interface for it. All you have to do is copy paste your Facebook Pixel ID there.

Due to this tracking, Facebook analyzes people’s web behavior and associates it with their Instagram accounts. Therefore, the ads will most likely be seen by people who find them relevant.

For instance, if you search for Nike running shoes online, Nike – as it most likely uses Facebook tracking – can leverage your onsite behavior and, in the future, target you with ads. Therefore, if your history incorporates a wide range of Nike running shoe pages, you’ll inevitably stumble upon such commercials on Instagram.

Nevertheless, this is the most likely scenario. As you might expect, though, there are other types of Instagram ads that aren’t as straightforward.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing

As we’ve already clarified beforehand, according to the new Instagram algorithm, the number of social interactions, shares, comments, and likes determine whether a post will appear in one’s feed or not.

So, since focusing on reaching engagement requires time, which you might not have, you can consider collaborating with influencers. In fact, nowadays, influencer marketing has become a widely used strategy for both small and big brands.

But what is an influencer?

An influencer is a person that has a significant number of followers on Instagram. He/she can potentially promote your products in exchange of a fee. The reason why this strategy is so common is that they address the requirements and specifications regarding engagement – which is fundamental according to the new Instagram algorithm. This means that your products will be out there, for the world to see, without having to pay for ads.

However, this approach is still a form of advertising. It’s just that it is different. Most notably, though, the best part about collaborating with influencers is that they raise awareness of your brand without having that big blue sponsored ticket next to the post.

  • The Benefits of Influencer Marketing

When you collaborate with influencers to promote your products on Instagram, you are likely to experience an increase in traffic and sales, which is something each brand should focus on. At the same time, the pictures taken by influencers can further be utilized in the future, when you create ads – nonetheless, if you plan on doing that, make sure you clarify this beforehand.

It’s always best to communicate as openly as possible, to make sure you’re on the same page. On a different note, another important benefit is that via influencers, you can build trust and reliability. And when you have earned the trust of potential customers, they are more likely to shop from you.

  • Running Contests and Giveaways

Who doesn’t like to get something for free, right? This is why organizing contests and giveaways every now and then could be a good strategy to increase your base of followers. At the same time, this should be helpful in growing your community – which is another important aspect when it comes to branding.

Once again, the tactic that is most likely to work is organizing contests with influencers. Nonetheless, for this approach to work, you should offer something irresistible, something that will appeal to your audience.

Figure out what your audience wants and, once you do that, you should proceed with the upcoming step and organize a contest or giveaway. Usually, the rules for entering a giveaway or contests include liking a photo, following the account, or reposting the image on their account.

With every new follower, your base of followers increases, not to mention that the number of likes will make the post popular. Still, for this approach to work, you should be prompt and offer the prize as promised, within the designated timeframe, as you don’t want to keep postponing picking and announcing a winner. This will shatter your credibility, and you don’t want that.

Make It Easy for Your Followers to Buy from You

After having created a base of followers, it’s time to move your attention towards facilitating an easy and convenient shopping process. While it is true that gaining more followers and optimizing your engagement for brand visibility are noble and necessary targets, ultimately, you have to turn these efforts into sales.

To that end, you should analyze the user’s journey from the Instagram account to the buying process – which represents the conversion. The question is: could you do something in order to diminish the number of steps before the actual conversion?

In this view, it might be a good idea to link your online shop in the bio. On a different note, you might consider creating a personalized landing page. Ideally, it should be optimized for mobile devices, considering that most people access Instagram from their mobiles.

Posting too many direct product shots on a regular basis might make your feed appear too “salesy”. Thus, it might harm your integrity as a brand. So, when posting pictures with the purpose of promotion, make sure you get creative.

For example, clothing brands display outfits, in order to inspire users while increasing sales. This, combined with concepts of photographs that are related to your brand will create a nice imagery.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, promoting your brand on Instagram doesn’t necessitate a small fortune – at least not in the beginning, when you are a small business. However, you must have a strategic approach to Instagram marketing. This is the key to optimizing your opportunities and maximizing your sales. One thing is for sure: Instagram users like to engage with brands, and, most importantly, they like to shop.

Therefore, as an e-commerce website owner, the guidelines we presented above should guide you in the right direction. On a final note, don’t overlook the importance of tracking your performance. Distinct marketing approaches work differently for each brand/store, which is what makes performance tracking crucial. It’s always best to check whether a strategic approach has generated the results you expected or not.

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