The TikTok Algorithm: Understanding How It Works To Boost Your Content

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One of the most impressive features TikTok has to offer is its curation of content tailored to each individual user’s preferences. Understanding the TikTok algorithm, and how it works to match videos to viewers’ For You feeds, is the first step to figuring out how to harness this process to boost your own video views.

But first, let’s rewind.

What is the TikTok algorithm?

The TikTok algorithm is the method used by the platform to determine what videos it pushes to each individual user’s “For You” page, based on a series of factors including what kind of content the user has engaged with in the past. 

What is TikTok’s For You page?

The For You page (often abbreviated as FYP) is a stream of videos targeted directly at each user, curated specifically based on what the TikTok algorithm thinks they will be interested in watching. A video from this feed is the first thing that appears when a user opens the TikTok app, and they can then continue swiping up to check out the other videos the platform has compiled for them.

Every person’s FYP is unique and driven by a series of factors we’ll dive into to help creators understand how to increase their chances of getting their content seen by new viewers.

Why does understanding the algorithm matter?

From a viewer’s perspective, understanding the algorithm and its impact on your FYP can be helpful if you’re being inundated with videos that aren’t quite what you want to be watching. TikTok has recently started offering an explanation on each video of “Why You’re Seeing This Video,” as well as the ability to reset your FYP and have the algorithm start building recommendations from scratch—both of which we’ll explain in more detail further down.

For creators, having your video recommended to other users is one of the easiest, organic ways to grow your audience. But in order to fully take advantage of the system, it’s imperative to understand what specific factors go into the algorithm, how to tailor your content so that it reaches the correct audience, and how to make enough of an impact to turn those views into new followers.

How does the TikTok algorithm actually work?

According to TikTok, the algorithm primarily focuses on three factors when deciding which videos to pull into a user’s FYP:

1. User interactions

A lot of what TikTok recommends is based around the type of content a user already interacts with. This means the creators you follow, the videos you like, share, or comment on, and content you create and upload to your own account all factor into what the algorithm offers you in return. So if, for instance, someone posts a video related to a music artist you already follow on TikTok, there’s an increased likelihood it will show up on your FYP. And if you like and comment on that video, the chances that another similar video from the same creator pops up in your feed later will also increase, as you’ve signaled it was the type of content you appreciate viewing.

Conversely, if you mark a video as “not interested” or hide certain creators, sounds, or other trends, you’ll be less likely to be served similar content.

2. Video information

TikTok defines the “video information” that impacts the algorithm as captions, sounds, and hashtags. More broadly, the app is keeping track of commonalities between the videos you watch or search for as captured within this information. So if you react positively to videos of completely different genres that utilize the same trending sound, the algorithm will likely push more videos featuring that sound into your feed.

3. Device and account settings

Things like your language preference, country, the type of phone you use, and the categories you told TikTok you were interested in when you first signed up are the least important factors that impact the algorithm, but they do still come into play. This essentially just means the app is trying to match users to content that they can understand and that will play well on their devices.

What factors don’t affect the algorithm?

Fortunately, TikTok says that users with high follower counts or who have had videos go viral in the past aren’t given priority in being bumped to the For You page. They may have a leg up due to having a larger audience already tuning in and contributing to their engagement numbers, which does impact the algorithm, but it won’t be by virtue of their existing viewer base alone. In other words, creators who are still building up a following still have a great chance of getting their content seen via FYP.

What content is excluded from the For You page?

Not all videos are eligible for the For You page. TikTok has issued guidelines about the types of content that might be excluded from recommendations, including content that is overtly sexually suggestive, graphic, or violent (this includes medical procedures), shows tobacco products, mentions controlled substances, promotes extreme dieting, showcases dangerous challenges or stunts (including filming while driving), or promotes dangerous sports “performed by non-professionals that, if replicated, could lead to injury.” 

Some of these videos may still fall within what’s allowable on TikTok, but not be considered appropriate to push to a user’s FYP as the content could be considered disruptive or disturbing.

The platform also attempts to diversify content so that users aren’t seeing the same video, or the same type of video, again and again, and refrains from recommending TikToks that are unoriginal, spammy, non-video, clickbait, misleading, low-effort, or uploaded by users younger than 16.

Understanding these exclusions can be helpful for creators who are still trying to decide what type of content they want to focus on, as well as those trying to increase their engagement moving forward. A video being ineligible for TikTok’s FYP doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t worth making, but you may need to come up with another strategy for attracting viewers.

Why is TikTok recommending a specific video on my FYP?

TikTok recently added the ability to determine why a certain video appears on your FYP. 

When the video is on your screen, click the “share” arrow on the right-hand side, then choose “Why this video” on the panel that pops up. The app will then tell you what factors went into the algorithm’s recommendation, such as previous content you may have watched that is similar.

This is great for anyone hoping to get a better grasp on how the algorithm functions and can give creators a better idea of how their own content might be promoted to viewers.

Resetting the algorithm

Another feature recently rolled out by TikTok is the ability to reset your algorithm altogether. It’s a useful option for folks who feel their FYP has come to represent an amalgamation of things they love and things they aren’t necessarily interested in anymore.

To do this, head over to your profile page, tap the three lines in the top right corner, choose “Settings and privacy,” then scroll down to “Content preferences,” where you will finally be given the option to “Refresh your For You feed.”

How to hack TikTok’s algorithm and get your content seen

Now that you have a better understanding of how TikTok’s algorithm works to populate an individual user’s FYP, you can use that information to position your own videos to reach more viewers—and, most importantly, to reach the right viewers.

1. Find the right niche

If you’ve already been creating content on TikTok, you may already have your niche all figured out. If not, honing in on something specific that links most or all of your content together can go a long way toward helping you find an audience and getting your videos into the FYPs of viewers who are interested in what you have to offer.

Your niche can be as broad as posting makeup or dance videos, or as specific as showcasing your cosplay or offering quick how-tos about fixing cars. You don’t have to stick to a single niche, although if your goal is to build a brand rather than just have fun on TikTok with friends, uniting your content with some sort of common theme tends to be the best foundation.

2. Create compelling content

The primary purpose of the algorithm is to connect viewers with content they will want to watch—meaning, once your video gets on someone’s FYP, you have to make sure it’s actually going to be something they watch (and, ideally, engage with) rather than simply scroll on by.

Although we never really know what’s going to hit and go viral, there are still some general guidelines to keep in mind to create compelling content:

  • Don’t waste time. You need to hook your viewer quickly if you want them to stay tuned in for the full video. Scroll through your own FYP and take note of what openings make you stick around and which ones have you flipping right on by.
  • Keep your video short. Take this one with a grain of salt! Longer videos can do very well on TikTok. However, the algorithm favors videos that are watched all the way through, so if you’re still getting your footing as a creator, consider keeping things short and sweet for the time being.
  • Pay attention to quality. Your videos don’t need to look professional, but making sure that your audio is clear and your picture is bright enough for viewers to know what’s happening on screen are basic necessities.
  • Be conscious of crossposting. Some creators post the same or similar content on multiple platforms. If that’s your strategy, that’s fine, but make sure whatever you post to TikTok is calibrated for TikTok—that may mean re-editing a video into smaller bites, but it definitely means making sure everything still looks good and makes sense with the vertical framing.

Making great videos will obviously help grow your account in the long term, but the more views and higher engagement you get on a single video will also increase the odds that the algorithm deems it worthy of being sent to more For You pages.

3. Utilize hashtags and keywords

No matter how compelling your content is, it won’t matter if the algorithm doesn’t know how to categorize it so as to direct the right audience your way. 

Hashtags are the easiest way to achieve this. Chances are, you spend enough time on TikTok to have a good understanding of what hashtags tend to work best with the type of videos you want to create. If not, spend some time looking through similar videos and get a feel for how creators tag them. Both broad and specific tags (eg #TaylorSwift plus #TSTheErasTour for a concert) can be useful here but don’t overdo it and end up with too many.

Your pre-hashtag video caption is also an opportunity to signal what your content is about via keywords, although it’s also important to use that space to write an interesting description of your video to capture viewers’ attention.

4. Pay attention to trends

Being an early adopter of TikTok trends can have your video doing the FYP rounds in no time. This might mean hopping onto fun challenges, working trending sounds or music into your videos in fun ways, or even just paying attention to what hashtags are trending on the app—although it’s important that if you’re going to latch onto trending hashtags, you make sure they’re actually ones relevant to the video in question.

5. Engage, engage, engage!

If you want viewers to engage with your content, you have to be the one to get the ball rolling.

  • Engage with your audience: A “call to action” is an easy way to get engagement—end your video by asking your viewers to answer a question or offer a reaction or go check out a different video you posted. You can also engage with your audience by responding to comments directly or via additional videos.
  • Engage with other TikToks: Creating duets or stitches with other videos, especially ones that are doing well and where you have something of particular value to add, can be a fun and easy way to start up a conversation or draw attention from new viewers.
  • Engage with other TikTokers: Working with TikTokers in a similar niche directly to help bolster your audiences can help get new eyes on your content, although sometimes even just engaging with them via comments can bring people to your own page, which can increase your views, and help the algorithm do its thing.

6. Analyze what’s working and what isn’t

TikTok offers creators access to certain insights that can help you understand how your videos are performing, and why. When you access your analytics from your profile page (tap the three lines in the upper right corner, then “Creator tools,” then “Analytics”), you can see information such as how much engagement your videos are getting, where people are finding them, and more. You can also get even more information of this type by upgrading to a TikTok Pro account.

These metrics in particular may be helpful to you as a creator:

  • What time of day your viewers are most active
  • What types of videos your followers have been watching
  • What percentage of viewers watch your videos all the way through

Although you should be careful not to base too much of your strategy around analytics, having this information on hand allows you to see how your views, engagement, and follower count changes while you experiment with posting at different times of the day, trying out new content, and switching up the lengths of your videos.

7. Make your content accessible

TikTok’s caption and translation tools easily make your videos accessible to a wider audience, without requiring much effort on your part to implement. Try them out!

8. Take advantage of your popular content

If you’ve already had a video go viral, or get notably more attention than your other videos, you can capitalize on that. Answering viewer questions or making a follow-up to your video, and keeping the video information similar, will give your new content a stronger chance of ending up on the For You pages of the people who interacted with your last one on their FYP but haven’t been won over enough to follow you just yet.

Don’t go overboard here with too many related videos, and don’t make videos that are low-effort just because you can write them off as a follow-up to something more popular, but do try to offer potential viewers something new and of value that will make them glad the FYP brought them back.

If you have a good grasp on what type of content does well for you, you can also plan ahead and hold back some information on a video you think is going to be popular, ensuring a compelling part two when you’re ready. This tactic can backfire though, so use it with caution.

9. Keep adding to your video backlog

Viewers checking out your profile page from their FYP will want to see what else you have to offer before deciding whether to follow you or not. If you steadily grow a backlog of quality, related content, it’s more likely to capture their interest. 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that just because your TikTok doesn’t seem to be going viral the day it was released doesn’t mean it won’t grace FYPs across the app a month down the road. In other words, don’t throw your videos out if it looks like they’re underperforming right out of the gate.

Now get out there and conquer the TikTok algorithm!

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