Thumbnail - TikTok Cracking the TikTok Algorithm

August 16, 2021

TikTok is a popular, short-form video-based social media platform that boasts high user engagement (the highest among the most prominent platforms). As the #2 top downloaded iOS app in 2020, TikTok has 689 million active users worldwide every month, with a wide age range in its user base (ten to 29-year-olds), with almost 70% of teenagers in the U.S. actively using the app. 

One of the most interesting features TikTok boasts is an algorithm that is tailored to the individual user. Wondering how it works? Let’s dive right in. 

What is The TikTok Algorithm? 

The TikTok algorithm, which powers a user’s unique For You Page, determines what content users want to see, all while finding high-quality high-performing videos to boost. It’s tailored to the individual user, automatically curating and recommending content based on a number of factors. 

TikTok’s algorithm begins working from the moment a new user signs up for the app and begins to interact with video content. Over time, the algorithm adjusts recommended content based both on what users spend time watching, and what they don’t. 

The For You Page is built on what is known as a recommender (or recommendation) system. Generally speaking, any site that serves up recommended content or media is using a recommender system. Other common sites and apps that recommend content include Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. 

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Some of the factors that come into play within the TikTok algorithm include:

  • The types of content the users interact with
  • The accounts they follow
  • How the videos are optimised
  • The specific account and device settings for each user

TikTok weighs some of these factors against each other, based on user behaviour. For example, the app’s recommender system is more likely to take note of whether a user watches a video all the way through, rather than their physical location.

The algorithm automatically assigns a rank to videos based on the chances of a user actually watching and finishing the videos delivered to their For You Page. 

How to Improve TikTok Algorithm Performance

As a content creator or brand, there are a number of ways you can improve your video performance on TikTok. Here are a few tips for leveraging the platform’s ranking factors to boost your content. 

1. Increasing User Interactions 

If you want more users to see your content, then you’ll want to get them interacting with it. Videos show up in user’s For You feeds based on activity such as following accounts, sharing, liking, and commenting on videos. 

You want to get users’ attention and keep them on your videos as long as possible. Consider incorporating content in your videos that encourage them to duet, stitch, or leave a comment.

You can do this both by saying it in the video itself and including a call to action in your caption. On the other hand, simply posting a relatable video will often get users talking.

Use your caption to ask questions and prompt users to leave comments. Then, when they do comment, engage them in conversation. Go beyond quick, one-word responses, adding value to the conversation so they keep coming back to your comment section. 

2. Optimising Your Video Information 

Optimising your videos and their information will help your content be more crawlable on the TikTok algorithm. Information such as your caption, any sounds you use, effects, stickers, hashtags, and the length of your videos can factor in here. 

Pay close attention to the hashtags you choose. Hashtags are a crucial factor in which videos the algorithm curates for a user’s feed. If a user clicks on a hashtag and watches several pieces of content with that same hashtag, they’ll probably see future content that’s similar to what they already spent time watching. 

Use the Discover tab to find hashtags that are trending, making sure to only use options that are relevant to the content you’re creating. Consider including #foryoupage, #foryou, or #fyp in your caption, as these hashtags can sometimes boost your chances of showing up in users’ For You feeds.

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3. Considering Device & Account Settings 

A user’s device and account settings can impact the TikTok algorithm. Information such as a user’s country, the type of device they’re using, and their preferred language can influence whether their videos show up on the For You Page.

However, these factors don’t weigh as heavily as others, such as how long a user spends watching your video. There’s not anything you can do regarding device or account settings to directly influence how your videos show up.

4. Indicators of Quality & Interest

Use behaviour communicates to TikTok which pieces of content are most interesting and of the highest quality. When it comes to interest and quality, there are a couple of things you can do to influence your audience’s interest in your videos.

One thing you can do to boost interest and viewer retention is to ensure your videos are well-made. Pay attention to lighting, content, and quality of information.

If you’re editing your videos, make sure your edits are clean and what you’re saying is understandable. Additionally, consider including captions to make your video content more accessible to all users.

Screenshot Zachking

A major indicator of quality is whether a user watches a video from beginning to end.

Consider keeping your videos under the 15-second mark to ensure they’re being watched all the way through. Users are more likely to finish a short video that has high entertainment value or punchy, valuable, educational information.

5. Post Consistently When Your Audience is Most Engaged

Post content when your audience is online and most engaged. For instance, if the majority of your audience is from Australia, you probably don’t want to post your content at 5 am Sydney time. Instead, try to look at who your audience is, and when they most likely will be on TikTok.

A great tool to find out when your viewers are most active is to study your TikTok analytics. TikTok gives you a lot of helpful information to determine when your audience is online. So find that information and adjust your posting schedule accordingly. Over time, you will see an increase in engagement on your content.

Screenshot Analytics

If you don’t have a big following and all the juicy analytics yet, don’t worry. Just try out different upload times, and see if it makes a difference in engagement. You might find that 8 am works great for TikTok dance videos, but not great for movie quotes. With trial and error, you’ll find what works best for you.

Also, as with all social media channels, consistency is key! By posting content consistently you will keep your audience engaged and always looking out for more great content from you. This could be one post per day, one post per week, or one post per fortnight. Whatever the schedule, be sure to try and keep it consistent.

6. Jump on Current Trends

TikTok is an ever-changing platform, with trends coming and going within weeks. If you want to increase your visibility and crack the algorithm, make sure to jump on these trends from time to time. You can do this by browsing through the Discover section on TikTok, and look for the most popular hashtags and challenges. Find a hashtag or challenge that fits your personal brand, and give it a go.

Screenshot Discover Page

In addition, you can also look for songs or sounds that are trending. You can find these in your video editor. Or have a look at sounds your viewers have listened to, which you can find in your account analytics. This data will give you an idea of which songs to try.

Other Tips to Improve Your Visibility with the TikTok Algorithm 

In addition to these major factors for appearing in the TikTok algorithm, there are a few other things you can do to improve your visibility on the platform. These include: 

  • Dueting or stitching videos from popular accounts, so long as they’re relevant to your content
  • Study your analytics to understand what type of content your audience loves most
  • Use effects in your videos 

Final Thoughts 

The TikTok algorithm is individualized for each user’s interests, interactions, and viewing preferences, and no two For You feeds are alike.

In order to get your videos showing up on your audience’s For You Page, it’s important to boost user interactions with your videos, optimise your videos’ information so they’re easier to find, and create high-quality videos that add value (in the form of entertainment or education, in many cases) to your audience.

With the right combination of consistency and intentionality, it’s completely possible to optimise for the TikTok algorithm, increasing your visibility over time.

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About the author 

Jonathon Tanner

Jonathon Tanner is the Co-founder & CEO of Social Media College, Australia's leading educator and trainer for social media. He co-authored the Diploma of Social Media Marketing, the world's first and only Australian Government recognised course in social media marketing, delivered by 25 leading colleges and TAFEs across Australia, and articulating into several Bachelor programs at Australian Universities. His deep expertise in social media spans content marketing, social media strategy, 15 different social media networks, paid social advertising, personal branding, email marketing, and social media conversion. Jonathon has also co-founded several other businesses, as well as spending 12 years as a management consultant specialising in mergers & acquisitions for private equity firms, growth strategy, and operational improvement. Jonathon holds a combined Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Sydney.

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