A Guide to the TikTok Algorithm

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By Boris Dzhingarov

If your brand is not already using TikTok for marketing, you are missing out on leveraging one of the biggest and most popular social media platforms right now. If you do, then you are likely looking for ways to go viral and gain traction on the platform. Doing so can help you get more followers and viewers and ensure many more people discover your content. All this requires that you understand how the TikTok algorithm works.

What is the TikTok Algorithm?

As with other social media platforms, the algorithm used on TikTok is meant to make the best content recommendations for individual users. It decides which videos you are likely to want to see and engage with on your “For You” page. To do this, the platform’s algorithm takes into account numerous metrics, mainly their habits and viewing preferences.

It has been fine-tuned to ensure that every user’s For You page is highly personalized to ensure users stay on the platform as long as possible. What anyone sees on their For You page is very different from what everyone else sees, although there may be some overlap if they have similar preferences and habits.

The content you see on this page will also change over time as your habits and preferences change. By doing this, the algorithm ensures you are always served content you are interested in at any given time regardless of your habits and preferences at the time.

How the TikTok Algorithm Works

Social media algorithms are what drive these platforms and give them both value and utility. For this reason, every social media platform is very secretive about its algorithms. However, we can look at available research and data to determine the different factors the TikTok algorithm uses to determine what a user might like and recommend content.

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The conclusion is that the three main factors influencing TikTok recommendations include:

  • Video information
  • Account and device settings
  • User interactions

Video Information Helping with Content Discoverability

The TikTok algorithm looks at different video information to see if it would be a good fit for certain users. Some video attributes and data the platform looks at include hashtags used, stickers, sounds, captions, and runtime.

Hashtags are a particularly strong data point. Users who use certain hashtags when creating content, or view content containing a specific hashtag, are more likely to see videos containing that hashtag in the future.

TikTok uses other data points to understand what the content contained in a video is about.

User Interactions

A user’s interactions with a video or specific types of videos make it more likely that they will see the same types of videos again. User interactions have significant weight when determining what a user sees on their For You page. Some key user interaction indicators include:

  • Videos created
  • Comments
  • Accounts followed
  • Video shares and likes
  • Videos watched in their entirety
  • Favorited videos

Watching a video to the end is a very strong indicator of interest and this is why it carries so much weight. Users are also more likely to see content from creators they interact with rather than those they follow but whose content they do not watch for significant periods.

Account and Device Settings and Indicators

TikTok has said in the past that its algorithm does consider account and device settings when determining content to recommend. However, it says that these signals do not bear as much weight as preference indicators such as watch time, likes, and video plays. It says that it tracks these metrics mainly for app performance optimization. Examples include device type, country settings, and language preferences. Users do not explicitly choose these as preferences, and this is why they do not hold as much weight.

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Factors That Do Not Influence the TikTok Algorithm

One of the most important things to understand is that videos are recommended to users’ For You pages on their merits instead of the merits of their creators. What does this mean? The total number of followers has very little bearing on whether a video is recommended or not.

Those with higher follower numbers will have higher visibility, but if their videos do not perform well, they will not be surfaced more often compared to someone with a lower follower count whose videos do better.

Additionally, the ratio of videos that do well to those that do not does not have a bearing on how often the video surfaces. The video has to perform well according to the key indicators discussed above, especially user interaction.

Making the TikTok Algorithm Work for You

As a content creator or business using TikTok for marketing, you need to ensure your content performs well, and that requires ensuring the algorithm works in your favor. A good way of ensuring this is hooking your visitors in the first few seconds. Considering how important how long users watch your videos is, this is something you should already be doing. Slow build-ups that cause the audience to lose interest are, therefore, a bad idea.

Using voiceovers, sound effects and text overlays can help with this. Text overlays are a particularly potent tool for showing users what the video is about and why they should watch it in the first few seconds.

Have a Balance Between Short and Long Videos

Short videos give you a massive advantage because people are more likely to finish watching a 15-second video than a 10-minute one. Shorter, punchier videos work well, but longer videos can work well, too. Long-form videos that align with your brand, goals, and messaging can work well, especially for marketing videos or where you need to explain something.

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Leverage TikTok Analytics

Take advantage of TikTok analytics to know when your content receives the most engagement. Posting content at the right time improves engagement that boosts it so that it appears on even more For You pages.

Use Hashtags

The TikTok algorithm uses hashtags to know whether to surface a video, who to show it to and how to categorize it. Find hashtags relevant to your content as well as those that have a lot of engagement and use them.

Although it might not seem like it, TikTok is still a relatively new social media platform meaning there is a lot of room to leverage it to your advantage. Learning how its algorithm works is a great first step in doing so.