If you’re using TikTok for marketing, you’re probably looking for ways to grow on the platform. How do you get more views and followers? How do you get your content to show up in front of the right people? To answer these questions you need to understand how the TikTok algorithm works.

In this guide, we give you a breakdown of what the TikTok algorithm is and how it works. More importantly, we give you some practical tips on how to work with the algorithm. Let’s dive in.

Table of contents:

What is the TikTok algorithm?

The TikTok algorithm is a system that makes content recommendations tailored to each user. It decides which videos a user might like based on their individual interests and displays them on the user’s For You page.

As a result, the For You page is highly personalized for each user. What you see on your For You page will not be the same as what your friend or colleague sees on their For You page.

For example, someone who watches a lot of beauty and makeup content will naturally see more recommendations for similar videos. Yet, those videos will rarely show up for someone who mostly consumes content related to sports and gaming.

Similar to other social media algorithms, it also means that the types of content you see on this page will change over time as your viewing behavior and preferences change. For instance, as you pick up a new interest in DIY projects, the algorithm will start showing you more DIY-related videos on your For You page. This happens as you engage with more crafting and DIY content.

How does the TikTok algorithm work?

Now you may be wondering how TikTok knows which content to recommend. The TikTok algorithm considers a combination of factors to decide which videos a user might like.

Let’s take a look at the most important TikTok ranking factors that influence which videos show up on your For You page:

Engagement

One of the most important ranking factors for TikTok is engagement. This includes metrics like:

  • Video likes and shares
  • Comments posted
  • Videos completed
  • Favorited videos

TikTok uses this information to understand the types of videos you like to watch and share so it can recommend similar videos to you.

It’s also likely to favor videos from creators whose content you’ve regularly engaged with. Finishing a long video or favoriting it also tells TikTok that content really resonated with you.

User Interactions

Beyond engagement, TikTok also considers user interactions like:

  • Accounts followed
  • Content created

This information allows the platform to get a better understanding of each user’s unique preferences and how they change over time. TikTok then uses this data to serve you content that aligns closely with the content you actively choose to consume and create yourself.

Video information

Video information like captions, hashtags and sounds also helps TikTok understand how to rank the content.

This information shows the algorithm what the content is all about so it can decide when to display it on users’ For You pages.

Device and account indicators

TikTok also looks at the device and account settings of each user to optimize for performance. The main information it looks at are:

  • Country settings
  • Language preferences
  • Device type
  • Category selection

However, since users don’t actively express them as preferences, they don’t hold as much weight as the other two factors. That means the algorithm is likely to place greater weight on a strong indicator of interest such as watching a video in its entirety.

What the TikTok algorithm doesn’t show

According to TikTok, the platform aims to keep its users’ For You pages “interesting”, “varied” and “safe.” To that end, the algorithm does not recommend the following:

  • Duplicate content
  • Content you’ve already seen
  • Content considered as spam
  • Potentially offensive or unsafe content
  • Videos that have just been uploaded
  • Videos that are under review

TikTok also mentions their algorithm does not directly consider the following factors when ranking or recommending videos:

  • Follower count
  • Previous high-performing videos

This means even if you’re a new creator on the platform, your videos are just as likely to rank or go viral as those posted by influencers or veteran TikTokers.

9 tips for working with the TikTok algorithm

Looking at these ranking factors, it’s safe to say that the most important way to work with the algorithm is by driving engagement.

This may seem like a challenge if your brand is new to the platform and you’re still building your following. Here are a few tips to improve your chances with the TikTok algorithm:

1. Level up your TikTok hashtags

If you thought hashtags were just for Instagram, think again. The TikTok algorithm uses hashtags to understand the content of a video and how to categorize it.

That means if you want TikTok to show your video to the right users, you should use hashtags that are relevant to your video and your brand.

For example, Huda Beauty uses hashtags like #cleaningmakeupbrushes and #satisfyingvideo in the following video. This helps it reach people interested in this type of content and also signals to TikTok what the video is about.

TikTok screenshot showing Huda Beauty's use of hashtags.

It’s even better if you can make use of trending TikTok hashtags that are already getting a ton of visibility and engagement.

For example, you may be able to take part in a popular hashtag challenge and add your own twist to it. Huda Beauty does this too above with the hashtag #cleaningtiktok.

These trending hashtags could inspire your content creation. They could also boost your content visibility since they’re already popular on the platform.

To browse trending hashtags, search for a relevant keyword and swipe over to the Hashtags tab to see the top hashtags related to it. You can also see the post count for each hashtag.

TikTok screenshot showing how to browse trending hashtags related to decor

2. Take advantage of TikTok trends

TikTok is all about the latest viral trends. Using trending audios, hashtags and effects in your videos can give them a boost with the algorithm.

Songs and sounds often explode in popularity on TikTok. When a sound starts trending, make it your own by using it creatively in a video. This taps you into an audience already engaged with that audio.

But audio trends aren’t the only trends to capitalize on. Keep an eye out for trending hashtags and effects too. If a new meme or challenge takes off, find a way to put your unique spin on it. Here’s Amazon using both a trending sound and a meme in one video:

Finally, don’t forget to experiment with trending video formats. For example, if a specific style of video goes viral, try making your own version that aligns with your niche.

Jumping on TikTok trends may seem cliché. But it can introduce your content to communities and accounts you’d usually never reach. Just make sure to put thought into the trends you participate in to stay true to your personal brand.

3. Make the first few seconds count

TikTok prioritizes factors like whether users finished watching your video. So, you need to grab your audience’s attention within the first few seconds and hook them in so they’ll want to watch the rest of the video.

That means skipping the intro and getting straight to the good part within the first 2-3 seconds. With TikTok being a fast-moving platform, there’s no room for slow build-ups that could cause viewers to lose interest. Otherwise, viewers will get impatient and quickly skip to the next video on their feed.

Depending on the content, you may need to use text overlay, voiceovers or sound effects to make the first few seconds count. The goal is to instantly show the value of your video to make viewers stay.

Here’s an example from Chipotle, where a text overlay tells viewers why they should watch the video.

Screenshot of TikTok text overlay telling viewers why they should watch the video

4. Prioritize shorter videos

TikTok recently expanded its maximum video length to 10 minutes. However, longer videos may not necessarily give you an advantage with the TikTok algorithm.

As mentioned above, the video completion rate holds significant weight in the algorithm. Now, what’s the chance that people will watch an entire 15-second video vs. a 10-minute video?

Try to create shorter, punchier videos that will engage viewers from start to finish. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t experiment with long-form videos, especially if they’re better aligned with your brand identity, messaging and goals. Just remember to keep at least some of your videos short.

5. Post at the right time

Just like on other social networks, time is of the essence on TikTok. The algorithm looks at engagements on your video to rank it appropriately. In other words, the more engagement it sees, the more likely your video will show up on the For You pages of relevant users.

This means that you need to drive as much engagement as possible within the first few minutes of posting to improve visibility on the platform.

Posting your TikTok videos when your audience is the most active will help you achieve this goal. The best times to post on TikTok, in general, are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 2 and 5 p.m.

Based on Sprout Social data, a heatmap showing the best times to post on TikTok globally in 2023

However, every audience is different. It’s best to look at your follower activity and see when your audience is most active.

6. Write keyword-rich captions

While you can keep your captions short or even leave them blank, it’s much better if you can use them to your advantage. Write captions that are relevant to the video so the TikTok algorithm can understand what the content is about.

You can make the most of this space to include keywords that are relevant to the video. This will make it easier for TikTok to understand the content of the video and show it to the right users.

See how Booking.com uses keywords like “home,” “view,” “Cape Town” and “South Africa” in the following TikTok:

TikTok screenshot showing how Booking.com uses relevant keywords like "home" "view" and "cape town".

That said, avoid stuffing your caption with keywords just for the sake of it. Instead, use the keywords strategically to form a sentence that’s clear and easy to understand while being relevant to the content.

7. Track performance using TikTok analytics

If there’s one thing that’s non-negotiable for marketers, it’s tracking performance on every channel they use. Leveraging TikTok analytics gives you valuable insights to refine your strategy. Here are some key metrics to look out for:

  • Video views
  • Play time and drop-off rates
  • Traffic sources (e.g. For You page, hashtags, sounds)
  • Likes, comments and shares
  • Song uses
  • Profile visits
  • Follower growth
  • Link clicks
  • Video downloads
  • Audience retention

Analyzing the performance of individual videos as well as overall changes over time for these metrics can directly surface what content types, formats and distribution tactics resonate best with your target audience.

tiktok analytics dashboard showing follower activity

Compare old and new videos, different video lengths, captions vs. no captions, various sounds used and more. Let the data reveal what works and what doesn’t. Then, apply these learnings to optimize your content and guide your strategy.

Want to go deeper? Sprout Social’s analytics tools can give you a bird’s eye view of your TikTok performance. You can also compare metrics with your other social media profiles.

A screenshot of Sprout's TikTok Performance Report that demonstrates the number of published posts, views and engagements from one TikTok account. A line graph shows the number of video views over two weeks.

8. Optimize your content for search

Google has recently started showing more TikTok videos in search results, including featured snippets. This means optimizing your content for both native and web search is more important than ever.

To improve TikTok SEO, craft descriptive, keyword-rich titles and captions that summarize visuals clearly and highlight key themes—don’t be cryptic or use unrelated terms.

This explains what a clip is about to both search engine crawlers and the TikTok algorithm, giving your videos a greater chance of showing up for relevant search queries.

9. Work with TikTok influencers

Collaborating with TikTok creators who have strong followings and high engagement levels can introduce your brand to whole new communities. Even nano or micro-influencers in your niche with only a few thousand engaged followers can be valuable partners.

Here are some ideas for potential collaborations:

  • Branded challenges and hashtag campaigns
  • Sponsored tutorials, tips and tricks, and how-to videos
  • Unboxing new products or reviewing a service
TikTok screenshot showing an influencer collaboration.
  • Account “takeovers”
  • Co-created products and collections
  • Exclusive discount codes and offers

Remember—TikTok influencer marketing offers major growth opportunities but also risks if you don’t manage it strategically. Vet potential partners carefully by analyzing audience quality, typical engagement rates, follower sentiment and overall brand alignment. Don’t forget to establish clear expectations and messaging upfront.

Win over the TikTok algorithm

Cracking the TikTok algorithm’s code can help you unlock viral success on the platform. Give the algorithm what it wants—engagement, textual cues and quality content—and it will reward you in kind with increased reach.

Optimize around these core ranking factors, put our tips to action, and watch your views and likes take off faster than a hot new dance trend.

Want an easy way to manage TikTok alongside all your other social profiles? Sprout’s TikTok integration can help you analyze performance, schedule posts, manage comments and more from a single dashboard.