[Hashtag Strategy] How I think the Top Posts are selected for the #hashtags

From what I’ve learned so far after looking at literally thousands of top hashtag pages and accounts, here are my thoughts:

  • Ranking in the top posts is not strictly based on the number of likes and comments, as you can see by observing the top results. This is what I initially thought and so I created a tool that tells you the average likes/comments and also minimum likes for each hashtag, and although that is useful to know the formula is not so simple.

  • IG will want to show your post in the top posts of a hashtag if it deserves to be there, aka if the content is relevant for that hashtag. And how does it know that? The only way it could know is by measuring how people are engaging with that post when the engagement comes from that hashtag.

People can find your post/content through hashtags in a few ways: a) they follow that hashtag, b) they are looking at the hashtag because they clicked on it or searched for it.

While they do that they can engage with your post negatively or positively.

A positive engagement would be when they like, comment, save, share, look at, zoom, or even stop to look at your photo (yes, the app knows when you spend 5 seconds on an image or when you just skip through it). In this case, IG would consider that this post is deserving.

A negative engagement would be when the user just skips your content by scrolling past it, or they don’t interact (like, comment or save), or the worst one is when they click “do not show for this hashtag”. If enough people click “do not show for this hashtag” then pretty sure your post and possibly future posts will stop showing for that specific hashtag.

  • There is a filter in place for posts reaching the top posts tab and even the recent tab. No doubt IG has very smart machine learning algorithms that look at a post’s content (yes, they can see most of what is in the image: they know if there is too much cleavage, they know if there are humans in the picture, they know how visually aesthetic the image is and much more). The filter is in place to avoid ranking posts that are against the guidelines, but also to avoid ranking posts that should not be there because they don’t fit with the rest of top posts.

  • You do need some time and engagement in your post to be able to rank in the top posts. You will find posts in the top posts section that were posted anywhere from a few hours ago, to days ago and even months ago. Each hashtag is different and it depends on how many people are posting.

  • IG wants to show you fresh content, and they also don’t want to bore you with the same content from the same people every time (unless you keep engaging a lot with those accounts), so it will try to be fair to other new and upcoming accounts (as long as their content is deserving of the top posts tab).

  • Your top posts ranking will fluctuate quite a bit (you might get different results and sorting when you refresh a few minutes apart), but it is quite consistent among different accounts. I know this because I’ve checked the top posts for various hashtags multiple times across different devices and accounts. I am also building, as we speak, a tool that will allow you to know which hashtags are each of your posts ranking on.

With the tool I’m building, I hope to facilitate a process where instagrammers can 1) find interesting hashtags that are relevant and have the right amount of competition for your account and 2) track which of those hashtags you are able to rank for. The idea is that with time, you can learn insights unique to your account about which hashtags are working best for your content specifically.

  • Also, I think IG uses hashtags also to categorize what your account is about, so it can for example suggest accounts similar to yours. But it does not simply use hashtags for this. It will look at everything from content (both image content and caption), location, follower base, etc.

These conversations are interesting because nobody, unfortunately, is able to really look at how the algorithm works, but we can all learn from observation and logical thinking. What I find works well is thinking like an engineer and knowing what their main agenda is.

For example, we can assume that some of IG’s agendas are to 1) keep users within the platform and coming back every day (so they can show you more ads), 2) promote their best content so people keep coming back (so they can show you more ads), 3) generate ads revenue, etc.

To me, one of the most important tips is to choose hashtags that are relevant to your content. Ask yourself: if I was following this hashtag would I LIKE to see this post in my feed, or would I ignore it or click “do not show”?

Hope that was helpful. If you have any other tips regarding this, please comment! If anyone is curious about the tool I’m building, it’s not ready yet and I might invite some beta testers in about two weeks.


Try this app it will scan your account and will let you know the hashtags that you ranked on . I hope it helps app.hashtastic.eu

Awesome, Dave👍 Def interested in your new tool!

Very well written, everyone starting in instagram should read your article.

We are lucky to have good information coming directly from FB engineers and I can tell that your ideas are pretty accurate. I’m not able to tell you more in a public post but if any doubt just DM me.

A few items that I can disclose:

  • There’s not a negative engagement.
  • Engagement for IG is just an score that you can only add points.
  • Every post has an engagement and then if you use hashtags every single one will have an score as well.
  • Easy way to lose the score is to get reports from users that the hashtag shouldn’t be in the list.
  • And if the image was classified and yours doesn’t fit in that category (+80%)

https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/apple/ check this one, and probably you will see many things not related to apples.
The image classifier is not used,so far, on every single post.

but if you check this one:
you will see that the results are much better

IG still decides what content needs to be checked, based on historical data.

Explore and hashtags pages are one of the most beautiful systems that IG has at the moment.

For the beginners… this is what nobody wants, and IG is working to avoid it at all costs:


Do you know any hashtag API endpoint that will return all top posts (not just top 9)?