Social media discovery is mostly driven by ad dollars, but the Instagram Explore page remains one of the final frontiers for organic reach.
Behind the Explore feed, Instagram’s fine-tuned algorithm has gotten real good at recommending people with content they might be interested in. A little too good, when it comes to the spread of misinformation.
In response to both bad actors and good actors, the algorithm is constantly evolving and learning to identify problematic content, eliminate bias, promote new formats and connect people with positive communities on the platform.
For brands, the advantages of appearing in the Explore tab include potential spikes in reach, impressions and sales. It’s a place to grow your audience and build community. Learn about the latest updates to the algorithm and the right way to land on the Explore page.
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a lifestyle photographer used to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
What is the Instagram Explore page?
The Instagram Explore page is a collection of public photos, videos, Reels and Stories tailored to help each individual Instagram user discover posts, accounts, hashtags or products they might like.
The algorithm behind the Instagram Explore page uses machine learning to adapt and improve its content recommendations.
“We’re working to update the types of photos and videos you see in Explore to better tailor it to you,” explains an Instagram post. According to the company, posts displayed are chosen “based on things like the people you follow or the posts you like.”
The Instagram Explore page can be found by tapping the magnifying glass icon in the lower menu ahead of the dedicated Reels and Shop tabs. At the top of the feed, people can search for accounts, hashtags and places. In November, Instagram added the option for keyword searches, moving search beyond usernames and hashtags.
Source: @VishalShahIs Twitter
Below that are different categories ranging from a devoted IGTV feed to topics like music, sports, travel, beauty and food. Expect to see new categories such as “audio” appear here soon. When someone searches for something, category options adjust accordingly.
When someone clicks on a photo in the Explore feed, it opens up a continuous scroll feed of content related to that photo. So, in a sense, the Explore page is a monster feed of portals to more feeds, each one more granular and focused than the last.
According to Instagram, 200 million accounts check out the Explore feed every day.
How does the Instagram Explore page algorithm work?
No two Instagram Explore pages are alike. That’s because the content someone sees when they open the Explore tab is personalized by Instagram’s Explore Feed Ranking System.
Known as the Instagram algorithm, the system uses machine learning to adjust what’s displayed based on various data sources and ranking signals.
Unlike the home feed where people see posts from accounts they follow, Instagram engineers classify the Explore page as an “unconnected system.” In this system, posts are chosen “based on a user’s activity across Instagram and are then ranked based on similar factors,” explains Amogh Mahapatra, one of the company’s machine learning researchers, in a recent Instagram blog post.
In other words, the selection of content on each Instagram user’s Explore page is based on:
- The accounts that someone already follows
- What the people an account follows like
- The types of posts an account engages with often
- Posts with high engagement
Some steps have also been taken to address algorithmic bias, such as the introduction of Machine Learning Model Cards.
Does having an Instagram business account affect Explore page feed ranking?
At the moment, Instagram’s ranking favors accounts people interact with the most, whether they’re Business, Creator, or personal accounts.
“Our aim is to enable businesses to develop more meaningful connections with their audience and get discovered by people who want to deepen their interests by branching out from the accounts they already follow,” reads the Instagram business website.
Benefits of getting on the Instagram Explore page
Showing up on Instagram users’ Explore pages means more exposure for your content.
Accordingly, the benefits may or may not include:
- An engagement spike on the piece of content (post, IGTV video or Reel) that made it to Explore, as your content gets surfaced to a wider audience than your followers
- A bump in new followers (those that like your post enough to check out your profile and are impressed by your amazing bio, highlight covers, etc.)
- Residual increased engagement going forward (from those new followers)
- More conversions (if you have the right call-to-action ready for all those fresh eyeballs)
- A sales boost driven by product tags and Instagram shopping tools.
Convinced? Let’s take a look at how to make it happen.
How to get on the Instagram Explore page: 9 tips
Follow these tips to start showing up on people’s Explore page in no time!
1. Get to know your target market
Your audience already follows you. So to land on the Instagram Explore page, take “know your audience” one step further. Get familiar with your Instagram demographics, identify the target audiences you’d like to reach in Explore and learn what content these users engage with most.
Your business account Explore feed is a good place to start. Delve into posts, categories, and niche feeds and take note of the tactics that you might be able to emulate. Some questions you might ask during this exercise include:
- What tone seems to resonate most with the audience?
- Is there a visual style that performs best?
- What type of caption prompts the most responses?
2. Share engaging content
With a better grasp of what content your target market finds engaging, stir some Instagram engagement of your own. Apply your audience research to your brand’s social media content strategy.
Videos have a leg up over static visuals in the engagement department, as they autoplay in the Explore tab, and they’re often given more real estate in the feed. But still visuals with product tags, carousel formats, or just stunning imagery can be engaging, too. Don’t overlook the power of compelling captions either.
Follow the best practices for each format. Share high-quality visuals, hook viewers early, and offer something of value, from great storytelling to loyalty rewards.
Remember, engagement goes beyond likes and comments. So aim to create content that people will want to share and/or save as well.
3. Try prominent formats, such as Reels
It’s no secret Instagram wants Reels to succeed. There’s a reason Reels crop up in both the Explore feed and its own dedicated tab. The tab is so central to the Instagram app’s user experience that the entire home page was completely rearranged to accommodate it.
Getting discovered in the Reels tab could mean getting discovered in the Explore tab, too. Think twice before reposting that TikTok, though. Apparently, Instagram’s algorithm marks down those that feature the TikTok watermark.
Test out different formats such as Reels or IGTV to see which verticals bring in more reach. Stay on top of Instagram updates to understand which formats the company may be prioritizing at any given moment.
4. Cultivate an active community
One of the core purposes of Instagram’s Explore page is to connect people to communities on the platform. Community building is key to Instagram’s success—which means it should be key to your marketing plan as well.
The more active your brand community is on Instagram, the more likely Instagram will be to recommend it to “lookalike audiences” on the Explore page.
Give your audience ample opportunity to engage with your account. Start and participate in brand conversations in the comment section, DMs, and on other active brand channels. Encourage your community to turn on notifications for your posts so they can get engaged early.
5. Post when your followers are online
Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes timeliness (a.k.a. recency), which means if your post is brand new it will be shown to more of your followers. And earning high engagement with your own followers is the first step towards getting a spot on the Explore page.
Check out our analysis of the best time to post on Instagram for your industry, take a look at your analytics, or use Hootsuite’s post composer to figure out when your audience is online. Or head to Hootsuite Labs on YouTube for all of the above in a nutshell:
Pro tip: If your audience is online when you’re not, an Instagram scheduler is your best bet.
6. Use relevant tags
Geotags, account tags and hashtags are additional ways to extend the reach of your content within the Explore ecosystem.
Remember, people use the Instagram Explore page to search by hashtag and location, too. If a specific hashtag sparks someone’s interest, they can now follow it as well. Choose strategic Instagram hashtags and geotags so that your content appears where people are looking for it.
Account tags provide another way to surface your posts to new audiences. Make sure to tag relevant accounts in your posts, whether it’s the company CEO, brand partners (including influencers), or the photographer or illustrator.
Share posts from your audience to build community and trigger more reach and engagement at the same time.
7. Pay attention to analytics
Take a look at what you’re doing that’s already resonating with your audience. You may find that they like your boomerangs more than your carousels, or that they like your jokes better than your inspirational quotes.
If you can get your own audience tapping hearts and leaving comments consistently, their engagement will help propel you to the Explore page.
Check your analytics to see whether your biggest posts have already hit the Explore page. Tap the blue View Insights button below your precious post, and swipe up to check where all your impressions came from.
Pro tip: Use Hootsuite’s Post Performance tool to identify your top-performing posts, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
8. Consider ads in Explore
If you’re open to backing your organic efforts with some ad dollars, consider an ad in the Explore feed.
These ads won’t land you directly in the Explore feed grid. Instead, they put you in the next best position: The scrollable feed of photos and videos that appears when someone clicks on a post in the grid.
Lest you think this is the easy way out, it’s not. To get ROI on an ad on the Explore page, it’s going to have to be as compelling as the posts that surround it. Tall order, right?
For a complete rundown of how to nail ads on Instagram, we’ve got a guide.
9. Skip the algorithm hacks
Creating Instagram pods or buying followers may offer short-term gains, but they usually don’t pay off in the long run.
“Instagram’s feed ranking is powered by machine learning, which is constantly adapting to new patterns in data. So it can recognize inauthentic activity and make adjustments,” explains Instagram’s @creators account.
Focus on creating engaging content and building a genuine brand community.
How to reset the Instagram Explore page if you don’t like what you’re seeing
Don’t like what you see on the Instagram Explore page? Here’s a quick fix: Pull down and refresh the feed. Simply place your thumb gently on the screen and slide it down until you see the circle spin below the categories.
For a more long-term fix, here’s how to teach the algorithm what you don’t want to see:
1. Tap the post you don’t like.
2. Tap the three dots above the post.
3. Select Not Interested.
Use Hootsuite to easily create and schedule Instagram posts, engage the audience, track competitors, and measure performance—all from the same dashboard that manage all your other social media channels on. Try it free today.
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