The TikTok algorithm explained
If your brand is using TikTok for marketing, you’re probably looking for ways to gain traction on the platform. How do you get more views and followers on TikTok? On that note, how do you get more people to discover your content in the first place? Understanding how the TikTok algorithm works is key to making this platform work for your brand.
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 “hack” the algorithm. Let’s dive in.
What is the TikTok algorithm?
The TikTok algorithm is a system that makes content recommendations personalized for 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. 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.
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 example, as you pick up a new interest in DIY projects, you may see more DIY-related videos on your For You page. This happens as you engage with more crafting and DIY content.
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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:
User interactions and behavioral signals
One of the most important considerations TikTok makes is how users behave on the app. This information allows the platform to get a better understanding of the unique preferences of each user and how they change over time. It then ranks videos based on how aligned they are to these behavioral signals.
The TikTok algorithm considers the following key data signals:
- Video likes and shares
- Accounts followed
- Comments posted
- Content created
- Videos completed
- Favorited videos
TikTok uses this information to understand the types of videos you like to watch and the creators whose content you enjoy. That means it’s more likely to recommend videos similar to the ones you’ve watched and interacted with before. It’s also likely to favor videos from creators whose content you’ve regularly engaged with.
Video information for content discoverability
The information on the video itself such as captions, hashtags and sounds also helps TikTok understand how to rank the content. This is mainly because it uses the information to understand 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.
6 tips for making the TikTok algorithm work for you
Looking at these ranking factors, it’s safe to say that the most important way to “hack” 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.
The good news is that TikTok doesn’t consider follower count or a history of high-performing videos as direct ranking factors. This makes it much easier for newer accounts to get on the For You page of relevant users–provided they’re taking the right approach. On that note, here are a few tips to improve your chances with the TikTok algorithm:
1. Make the first few seconds count
TikTok prioritizes factors like whether users finished watching your video. So you should create engaging content to get more people to watch your videos from start to finish. For that, you need to grab their 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 Colourpop Cosmetics, where a text overlay tells viewers why they should watch the video.
For those quick eyeshadow days! 5 minute eyeshadow look with @Tashi Rodriguez 💜🖤
2. Lean toward 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.
3. 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 time to post on social media, in general, is weekdays between 9 a.m. and noon. However, every audience and app is different. It’s best to look at your TikTok analytics to access your follower activity and see when your audience is most active.
4. Make trending sounds work for you
TikTok is a platform that’s highly focused on audio, where songs and sounds quickly become viral. In fact, it’s one of the few social networks that allow users to conduct searches using audio. So it’s no surprise that the audio you use influences the discoverability of your videos.
When someone interacts with a video that uses a certain audio track, the TikTok algorithm will take it as a cue to recommend other videos using the same audio. That means using trending songs and sounds in your video could help you improve your content visibility. If you see a trend that’s surfacing on the platform, don’t be afraid to jump in and use the audio in your own videos, if it’s relevant.
Revolve always makes it a point to include fun and popular music in its TikTok videos.
5. Level up your hashtag game
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, Duolingo uses the #LearnOnTikTok hashtag in the following video. This is relevant to the video, which teaches an Italian word.
@samandwendy teach us the #Italian word for the sleepy feeling after eating too much! We hope there’s pasta left for us! 🍝 #LearnOnTikTok #Duolingo
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. These trending hashtags could inspire your content creation. They could also boost your content visibility since they’re already popular on the platform.
The Trends section under your Discover tab can show you hashtags that are trending right now. Research each trending hashtag to look for opportunities that your brand can leverage.
6. Write keyword-rich captions
While you can keep your captions short or even leave it blank, it’s much better if you can use it 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. 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.
See how GoPro uses keywords like “skijoring,” “Colorado” and “sport” in the following TikTok.
Welcome to the world of skijoring 🤠 Nick Burri shows us the most Colorado sport ever #gopro #skiing #skitok #pov #colorado #skijoring
Become a TikTok sensation
Engagement is crucial if you want to make the TikTok algorithm work for you. Make use of the tips we’ve provided to drive visibility and engagement on the platform. If you’re still new to the platform, check out our guide on social media campaign management for some inspiration.
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