This is How the TikTok Algorithm Works
August 25, 2020George Economides
The TikTok algorithm may seem complex and mysterious — but TikTok has (finally!) revealed exactly how it works!
From what hashtags you use, to your location, music choices, and even the very first TikTok video you liked — they can all influence the TikTok algorithm.
How the TikTok Algorithm Works (According to TikTok Themselves!)
TikTok has finally lifted the veil on how the algorithm works, putting an end to months of rumors and speculation.
In a recent press statement, TikTok shared exactly how the #ForYou feed is calibrated and personalized to each account.
What Factors Contribute to TikTok’s For You Page Video Suggestions?
So far, we could only make assumptions that the For You page appeared to be a curated feed, pulling videos that are related to your profile, location, and similar to videos you’ve already liked and engaged with.
But now, we have some concrete facts from TikTok on how the For You page reflects preferences unique to each user.
According to TikTok: “The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors — starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too”.
These factors include things like:
- User interactions:such as the videos you like or share, accounts you follow, comments you post, and content you create.
- Video information: this might include details like captions, sounds, and hashtags.
- Device and account settings:like your language preference, country setting, and device type.
And it doesn’t stop there. Each of these factors is individually weighted by the TikTok’s For You recommendation system, meaning that each For You page will be completely unique to a user and their level of interest.
For example, TikTok explains that a strong indicator of interest could be if a user finishes watching a longer video from beginning to end.
This would receive greater weight than a weak indicator, such as whether the video’s viewer and creator are both in the same country.
From these “indicators of interest,” For You page videos are then ranked based on the likelihood of a user’s interest in a piece of content.
But what about the age-old question of “do I need thousands of followers to go viral?”. In short, the answer is no.
TikTok explained that while a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers (by virtue of having a larger follower base), “neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system.”
So even if you have zero followers, and have never posted to TikTok before, there’s still an opportunity for your video to appear in the For You page of other users!
How to Personalize Your For You Page:
Now we know how TikTok decides what appears on your For You page, we can explore how to personalize it!
TikTok is an app for discovery — so even if you only follow 5 accounts, you can still spend hours scrolling through videos.
So to help you get the most out of your TikTok profile, you can take some action to make sure your For You page is always delivering content that you’re interested in.
Here’s some tips from TikTok on how to personalize your For You page:
#1: Getting Started on TikTok with Category Selection
When you first set up a TikTok account, you’ll be prompted to select categories that interest you — like pets, travel, beauty, sports, etc.
From here, TikTok starts to learn more about your interests and preferences based on your likes, comments, and replays.
#2: Find More of What You’re Interested in
The TikTok algorithm learns from every single action you take on the app.
So the best way to curate your For You page feed is to use and enjoy TikTok. Over time, you’ll see your feed becoming more relevant to your interests.
#3: Tell TikTok What You’re Not Interested in
There’s a space on TikTok for everyone, but everyone has their own preferences of what they’d like to see and engage with on the app.
Here’s some tips on how to improve your presence in TikTok:
Getting a coveted spot on a For You page takes a lot more than just adding #fyp to your caption.
To help you create the best content, and get more limelight on the TikTok feed, we’re going to jump into the top 6 factors that influence the TikTok algorithm!
From nailing your hashtag strategy to choosing trending songs and sounds, we’re covering everything you need to know to hack the TikTok algorithm:
TikTok Algorithm Factor #1 : Hashtags
You’re likely to see the following hashtags on content such as #Foryou, #ForYouPage, and #FYP. But based on TikTok’s statement on the algorithm, tapping on one of these hashtags doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the For You page.
Knowing exactly what hashtag is best in terms of optimizing your content for the FYP is still relatively mysterious.
Along with the #FYP tactic, we’ve seen people utilize the trending hashtag feature to tap into what’s gaining momentum in real-time.
By tapping the Discover Tab, you can find trending hashtags, as well as typing them out if you want to check a hashtag’s performance.
Looking for the ones that are getting a lot of traction right now? Just look for the fire icons next to the hashtags and think about incorporating that hashtag into your captain, if the content aligns.
TikTok lets its users know how many views each hashtag gains. And while these numbers can look intimidating — especially if they’re in the millions — they’re also proving this content is favored.
It almost provides a “creative brief” for users to tap into, such as the latest #albumlookalike challenge, #jamsessions, and #learnfromme hashtags, all prioritized by TikTok.
TIP: Research what hashtags are trending right now and see if your brand can create content to take part!
But be cautious — jumping on a hashtag just because it’s trending may seem like a good idea, but if the hashtag is completely unrelated to the content in your video, it could backfire!
So always find relatable hashtags that will help people discover your content and inform the TikTok algorithm what your video and your profile is all about!
TikTok Algorithm Factor #2: TikTok Captions
Unlike the trend of long captions on Instagram and Facebook, TikTok is not the platform to share an essay.
The ideal caption for TikTok should be short, feature hashtags relating back to the content, and be digestible (and complimentary) to the content you’re sharing.
TikTok is a mobile-first video platform, so keeping copy short and quippy tends to bring better results.
TIP: Want to make your copy most engaging? Consider asking a question, using a joke, or making the copy a little mysterious or something you need to “wait for.”
TikTok Algorithm Factor #3: Trending Songs & Sounds
Like hashtags, TikTok’s music and sounds play a major part in your content’s discoverability.
The good news is that using a trending song at the right time can mean a quick bump in likes and views.
But unlike TikTok’s Discover tab, TikTok’s Sounds are not as easily accessible as a tap of a tab. Unless you’re actively consuming video or creating one yourself within the app, you need to be a little more stealth in finding what music and sounds are getting the most traction.
Here’s how you can find trending music (and save music for later):
#1: Sounds in Video Editor
To find new, trending, and popular sounds on TikTok, you’ll need to go into TikTok’s video editor.
Press the plus icon at the bottom of the screen.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to actually film anything to see what’s hot! Tap “Sounds” at the top of the screen.
Now you can have fun and scroll through what’s trending!
It’s an awesome hub to find new stuff and make sure you’re on the pulse of what sounds people are using! This hub is also where your favorites list lives (more on that below!).
When you’re on TikTok, keep an ear out for sounds you like! Favoriting a sound collects it for you in one handy spot.
If you like a sound and want to use it in the future, tap on the sound under the username and tap “Add to Favorites”. The Favorites tab is an awesome tool to keep all your favs in one place — it’ll come in handy when you need it most!
#3: Sounds Your Followers Listened to
One of the best-kept secrets of the TikTok app is hidden in the Analytics tab of TikTok Pro accounts.
Under the Followers tab, scroll down to find the top sounds your audience has listened to over the last 7 days — making it a shortlist of music you could use for your next video!
TikTok Algorithm Factor #4: When Your Audience is Most Active
Posting content when your audience is most active is a sure way to get your content seen. And, thanks to TikTok’s Pro Accounts, you can tap into some juicy audience analytics.
TikTok gives you a ton of useful information to help you gain a better understanding of your personal best time to post.
Why Some Videos are Instant Hits (and Others are Slow Burners!)
Many people have seen or heard of the “slow burn” phenomenon on TikTok — when something is posted, barely gets engagement or reach, and then suddenly pops off on TikTok.
This timing could be 48-hours after posting or up to weeks later, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it!
For now, we can assume that while videos slowly gain likes, comments, and views, the TikTok algorithm may push your video onto the For You page, even if it’s not a brand new video.
Or, a sound could suddenly get a lot of exposure, based on someone else’s video going viral, and your video that features the same sounds could get a little bump!
So it’s worth keeping in mind that even though you might not get an initial huge reaction, it’s worth waiting and keeping an eye on your video for weeks, and even months after you’ve posted.
TikTok Algorithm Factor #5: Video Content & Editing
There’s no denying that TikTok’s video style is unique — there’s nothing off-bounds! It’s a place where creativity flows and you can represent your brand any way you like.
That said, if you’ve covered your bases with the perfect song, the ideal caption, and the timing of your post, but don’t have a strong video to share it with, does the content still perform? This is perhaps still the biggest unknown of the TikTok algorithm.
One theory is that TikToks with a seamless loop can potentially be a trigger for the algorithm.
It’s worth thinking about videos you’ve watched 3 times in a row, or clips you just keep coming back to — these are the ones that really grab audience attention and the algorithm could reward you for it!
This is something TikTok is very likely monitoring, serving more of the content all users are gravitating towards. It could be machine learning over personal preference that determines whether a video goes viral or not.
Once you have a good video concept, it’s worth spending some time editing your TikTok video to make the format even more engaging for viewers.
TikTok Algorithm Factor #6: Location
TikTok profile location is something we’re investigating at Later. We’re predicting TikTok is going to serve hyper-local content to viewers to make a more community-oriented feed.
While the Later team is scattered around the world, we’re all posting to the same TikTok account — that’s why you’ll see so many faces on our TikTok page!
Location is definitely a key factor in what videos get recommended to users on their For You pages. Having a global team has really allowed us to explore and confirm patterns in how we’re served location-based content.
Because of this, there’s a lot of potential for smaller businesses to benefit from being on TikTok to really increase brand awareness – especially if they’re trying to reach Gen Z and Millennials.
Other Factors That Influence the TikTok Algorithm:
We can only assume that the TikTok algorithm is always growing, changing, and learning from our behaviors on the app.
While there’s no definitive formula for hacking the algorithm, there are a few other factors that we think could be influencing video performance and your follower growth!
Some people have said it’s a good idea to flood your TikTok feeds with anything and everything because quantity trumps quality as the app is still growing in popularity. But others have noted 1-2 posts a day is the sweet spot.
While we certainly are in the camp of making the best content you can, TikTok is a tool to test new content, try new videos, and consistently post if you do want to grow your account.
So our advice would be to start experimenting with your content, be brave with new formats, and try to build a cadence of posting without worrying too much about aesthetics (for now!).
#2: TikTok Duets
If you’ve spent any time on TikTok, you’ve likely scrolled past Duets. They are side-by-side videos, one side being the original creator and the other being a TikTok user. Duets are a great way to increase engagement — the more duets your video gets, the wider net you cast.
Creating a Duet challenge for your audience is also a smart way to increase and collect user-generated content. For example, create a dance or challenge and ask your followers to duet with you in the caption!
#3: New Features
We did say TikTok was all about experimentation so being a “beta” user for new tools rolling out could play a role in getting more engagement on your videos. Especially as TikTok highlights what tools and features you’re using to edit your video when you post!
One example is the new voice over feature — essentially allowing the next wave of podcasters to find a space for their content on TikTok!
Keep your eye out for new feature releases, you may want to try them out to get more visibility!
#4: Completion rate
Another theory is that shorter videos of 10 to 15 seconds perform better on the app as their completion rate will be much higher.
With shorter videos, viewers will most likely watch it till the end (or even multiple times) which is a good signal to the algorithm that people are enjoying this content and it should be shared more often!