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15 Ways to Get a Post in the Instagram Top Posts Area

Posted by on May 21st, 2018

On Twitter, it’s often extremely valuable to get a topic in the trending box. On Instagram, the same concept applies to the “top posts” box. So what is the box, and how can we game the algorithm to make sure our posts are up there with the best of them?

Instagram’s Top Posts

Unlike on Twitter, there’s no site-wide trending or top posts box. Instead, each hashtag has a box of top posts, which tend to change from day to day. See for yourself, just visit a few hashtags. Here are a couple you can try.

Now, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the top posts in a given hashtag. The fact is, there’s little to no filtering going on. For the “instacat” hashtag I linked above, on the day I’m writing this, one of the top posts is an owl video and another is a picture of a dog. It’s obvious the poster either is trying to game the hashtags or is just spamming popular hastags in hopes of getting exposure. It works, too; the dog picture has 555 likes as of this writing, and the owl video has 467. Interestingly, comments don’t seem to matter, just likes; the dog photo has zero comments and the owl video has only four, while other non-top-post images in the feed have anywhere from 0 to 22 comments, at least as far back as I felt like scrolling to look.

Instagram Top Posts Example

It’s worth noting that there are only 9 top posts in any given hashtag, and there’s a mixture of different kinds of posts in that box. One obvious observation is that the topic of the image doesn’t necessarily have to match the hashtag, as in the dog in the cat-focused tag. However, some other observations become clear when you examine the top posts for a bunch of different hashtags.

  • An account needs to be reasonably popular, but does not need to be extremely popular, in order to appear in the top posts box. I’ve seen posts from accounts with half a million or more followers, but I’ve also seen posts from accounts with under 500 followers. In fact, there are often accounts with well under 10,000 followers dominating the top spots.
  • The less active the hashtag, the greater the chance you have of reaching the top posts spot for that hashtag. It doesn’t really matter if the hashtag is old or new, so long as it’s not very active. The less competition you have, the better your chances, essentially.
  • The less active the hashtag, the less frequently the top posts change. Very active hashtags tend to refresh on a daily basis, or even every 12 or so hours. Less active hashtags can have posts linger in the top spot for 3 or 4 days at a time. On very inactive hashtags, well, let’s just say one of the top posts on a niche hashtag I see is from 2016.
  • Even if you’re in the top spot, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the hashtag doesn’t get traffic. I could use #nelgfnald and guarantee myself a top spot, since I’d be the only content in that nonsense, but who cares if no one ever browses it?

As you might imagine, Instagram hides their algorithm and doesn’t talk about what it takes to get in the top posts. However, plenty of marketers have worked to reverse-engineer techniques that works, so here are fifteen different things you can do to boost your chances of getting in that top posts box.

1. Invest in High Quality Content

Perhaps the number one thing you can do is make your content better. The higher the quality of the content you create, the better off you’ll be. I’m talking on a technical level, here. Buy a better camera. Learn how to manipulate images beyond just basic filters. Smooth out blemishes, balance colors, edit out distractions.

High Quality Camera Post

For videos, use scripts when possible and make sure your audio is high quality. If you can’t do all of this yourself, consider hiring a photographer or videographer to do the work for you. Sure, it’s expensive, but ideally the return on your investment will be enough to balance it out.

2. Run Contests to Encourage Likes

“Contests” here is a shorthand term for anything that artificially inflates the like count on your photos, ideally within the first few hours of uploading. Instagram heavily features and promotes content that gets very popular, very quickly. A slow trickle of engagement over the course of several days is unlikely to get you anywhere near the top spots. You can run contests, you can ask for engagement, you can network with similar posters to help each other, and more. Just don’t go out to Fiverr or whatever and buy a bunch of likes; it’s more likely to get your account suspended.

3. Write Engaging Captions

An image captures attention, but the caption seals the deal. You want an engaging caption that captivates your audience and, most importantly, encourages likes and comments.

Adding Captions to a Post

Something informative, something interesting, something actionable; experiment and find out what your audience likes the most. It’s usually a good idea to ask some kind of question, to encourage user engagement and, in return, open up opportunities for you to engage back.

4. Offer Something for Free

When I say that you should offer something for free, it can be just about anything. You can offer a gift card for free and get a ton of likes from people wanting in on the giveaway. Or you can offer a free e-book, just follow a link in your profile to go download it. Or you can offer free advice; some photographers post about their image editing process, while bakers might post recipes. If you have something of value to your audience, even if it’s just simple behind the scenes information, offer that information and get people hooked. A lot of people use a “like” as a sort of save feature, to browse later and come back to. If you can provide something they want, you get more engagement out of the deal.

5. Monitor and Jump on Trends

Monitoring trends, both locally and globally, can give you ideas of where the attention and interest is going to lie in the coming hours or days. If you can produce effective content quickly enough, you can be an early adopter of a trend.

Instagram Trends Example

One of my favorite techniques is to monitor trends on other sites, like Facebook for news or Twitter for hashtags, and then port those over to Instagram. They don’t always work, but sometimes they do, and you can be part of the wave that carries a trend over to the new network. The key is rapid response, though; you can’t just use a trending hashtag a week after the traffic spike and hope to get much out of it.

The downside to using trends is that the competition is swift and fierce. Even if you get into the trending top posts box, you’re only going to stay there for a few hours or a day at most.

6. Post Just Before Active Hours

You can measure the peak activity hours of your audience and of the audience using your target hashtags. Make use of this information to post right when the larges number of them are signing on. This allows you to capitalize on the largest possible audience in the first hour after your image or video is uploaded.

It can be worthwhile to invest in tools to schedule your posts to go up at the peak hours, particularly if you’re generally busy during that time of day. Scheduling is tricky for Instagram, but it can be done, you just have to use an app you trust.

7. Abuse Community with a Pod

Instagram pods are small, like-minded communities that mutually swarm and comment on each others posts whenever they’re made.

Instagram Pods Illustration

If you have a large enough pod, or several pods, you can rack up enough comments and likes quickly enough to push your content into the top posts box for some of your hashtags. This is tricky, though, because pods are not technically kosher with Instagram. It’s just too hard to enforce unless you’re extremely blatant with it.

8. Market with Influencers

Getting a shout-out from an influencer on a new post can get a lot of fresh traffic and engagement on that post. If you get it quickly enough after your post goes live, that surge of traffic can carry you into the top posts box. Of course, marketing with an influencer is tricky. You need to find the right influencers, you need to get their attention, and you might even need to pay them. It can be worthwhile, though, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

9. Post Strong, Visually Interesting Content

Scroll back up there and take a look at the Instacat hashtag I mentioned. If you look at the top posts, you see some pretty interesting content. You see exotic looking cats, you see unusual situations for cats to be in, and you see ironically mis-tagged content like the dog I mentioned. If you scroll down, though, you see a ton of pictures of normal housecats doing normal housecat things. Think about the “average” picture in that feed, and then think about how yours can stand out. Bold colors, exotic features, anything that separates you from the pack will get more attention and have a higher chance of being featured.

10. Avoid Spamming Too Many Hashtags

I’ve written before about how hashtags work on Instagram, and the number of hashtags you can use on any given post. Give those a read, and then investigate the top posts of the hashtags you want to target. How many of them use a ton of hashtags, versus how many use only a couple?

Too Many Hashtags

Chances are, most of the top posts use somewhere between five and ten hashtags, though of course there are outliers in both directions. Just know that the more hashtags you’re adding to your post, the more your post looks spammier, and the more that will turn people off. This is especially true if you’re using a lot of unrelated hashtags. Be careful and experiment with them to figure out what works best.

11. Focus on Quick, Early Engagement

I’ve mentioned this off-handedly a couple of times, but Instagram’s algorithm heavily features content that gets a lot of engagement in the first hour or two after being uploaded. It’s very time-sensitive, so even if your older posts are doing quite well within your audience, they’re not going to be featured. You need that fast, early spike to get in the top posts.

12. Pick Mid-Range Hashtags

Examine the hashtags you want to target for reaching the top posts box. How much competition do they have? If there are hundreds of thousands of posts every week, you’re going to have a hard time standing out unless you already have a massive audience. If there are only a handful of posts per year, you’ll stand out easily, but you won’t get much engagement from reaching the top. You need to find hashtags that sit somewhere in the Goldilocks zone in the middle.

13. Use Geographic Tagging, Especially in Smaller Areas

Geographic targeting is just using a specialized kind of hashtag to reach out to a specific kind of community.

Geo Tagging Instagram Example

Some of those communities are very active, so targeting them appropriately can mean a surge in traffic as well as a local hashtag you can reach the top box for. It’s worth looking into which geographic areas you can target and if they’re worth using.

14. Respond to Early Engagement

Early engagement bumps up your post, and you can bump up the early engagement by responding to it when it happens. When someone comments, respond to their comment if at all possible. You can strike up a conversation and get other people to comment just for your attention.

15. Abandon Older Content

Don’t try to dump effort into getting a post over a day old to try to trend. It won’t happen, not unless you somehow trigger a viral surge, and even then it’s pretty unlikely. You can maintain old content for reasons other than trending top box positions, but for the purposes of reaching that top box, it’s better to post new content than to try to push older content.

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