Part 2 of this article is here.

When your photo is featured on the IG Explore tab, you significantly expand the reach of the post.  More importantly, it gives you exposures to new audience (currently not following you) in your niche.   In effect, making it to Explore is the best free organic reach you can have.

Explore tab

The Explore tab contains images suggested by Instagram. Instagram shows pictures similar to the ones you (the logged in user) have engaged with in the past.

This selection is primarily based on your consumption or engagement behaviour.  This included likes and comments you have made, videos you have viewed, pages you have visited and hashtags you have searched and used.   It is not only based on the people you are following.     Instagram explains the selection reasons with caption such as

  • Similar and popular photos you have liked
  • Accounts you have engaged with
  • Accounts similar to those are you follow

The Instagram algorithm is constantly evaluating and learning from your consumption behaviour.  It tracks your behaviour, the accounts you have engaged with, and build up clusters (niche)you’re your account. The purpose is for the platform to automatically curate a feed that is of interest to you. This, in turn would maximize your time spend and interacting on the platform.

As this method is based on your behaviour, every users’ Explore tab is therefore unique, with images fitting into the niche they are currently in.     Tabled below is an example of an Explore feed for a an account in active the ‘mothers and yoga’ niche.

When your photo is on Explore

From the publisher’s point of view, the Explore page is one of the best ways to reach out to new audience.    When your image is on the explore tab, the impression and reach of your photo increase significantly.  Your photo is shown to users in your niche – both your current followers and non-followers.     Photos on Explore, typically gets X3 or more engagement than the account average, and usually accompanied with an increase in new followers.

You might notice this trend within the first two hours of your posting. This increased engagement effect may continue for 24 hours or even a few days.

So what the key factors making a photo be featured on Explore ?  How can you build a strategy to maximize your chance to get featured ?

Here is an analysis of some of these factors.  It is based on sampling Explore photos in different

niches.  This analysis was made using Hashtag and Engage tools from smaudience.

“Instagram selects photos for Explore based on two key factors – niche and engagement. “

Good content

Good content is a pre-requisite for the Explore page.  These photos are usually visually superior, funny or entertaining images that catch the attention of the viewer.  Photos with clear message, that is instantly recognizable to the viewers tend to fair better on Explore.  If it is a video, the first frame or thumb nail also needed to fit into this category.

Here are some examples of photos reaching the Explore page.

@lukecabrahams is a travel food page with 2.5K followers. The post on June7 (high lighted in red) has 2,682 engagement, which is 20X of the page’s average.

A mother & yoga page @studioartyoga has 42.4K followers. Its post on June2  has 17,895 engagement which is 11X the average of that page.

@arnakrisrjans_photography is a destination photography page.  This photo with X2 the average engagement of the page, was featured on Explore on June21.

It is often said having good content will get a photo on Explore.   All these accounts have content of similar quality.  For one photo to make into Explore whilst others do not, there must be other factors in play.

High performing hashtags

When hashtags of a photo are performing well, the photo would be featured in the Instagram Top9 Trending tab.  Trending in Top9, significantly increases the chance of the photo selected for the Explore tab.

For example, the post from @lukecabrahams has 49 hashtags.  The photo was trending Top9 in 21 of hashtags.  It stayed on Top9 for 18 hours.      These trending hashtags are all of medium density (100K-250K) and were drawn from the food niche (eg restaurants, food and London).  This meant, the photo could be discovered by these food-related hashtags for almost two days.

When a photo is on Explore, it also has longer than average ‘shelve-life’.   In most cases, engagement on a photo drops off after four to eight hours.    In the case of this photo from @lukecabrahams recorded a continuous flow of comments and likes over a period of three days.

Tabled below is the hashtag performance, and listed the positons of the trending hashtags by their position on the 3X3 Top9 grid.     This performance snapshot was taken 4 hours after publishing.

Figure 2 : hashtag performance

Hashtag is important for Explore, as it define your niche. When a photo reached Trending Top9, it is also a sign of superior engagement. Getting more hashtags into Top9, increases your chances on Explore tab.   In fact in our analysis, most of the images on Explore have at least one trending hashtag.

Sizes of account

The size of the accounts who engaged with the photo is important for Explore.

Large accounts, carry more weight and authority, and with it, a larger pool of potential new audience.  This is particularly true when these accounts are influencers in your niche.

When a large account/influencers engaged with your photo, it increases you chance of getting into Explore.

As an example, the largest commenters and likers of the photo from @lukecabrahams are 10X of its size.   More importantly, they are also from the travel and food niche.

Tabled below is the top tier engaged accounts for this photo. It shows Commenters and Likers, their bio, account size; sorted by followers count.  This was taken in the initial first hour of publishing.


Figure 3 :  Commenters in the first hour, sorted by size of account.

Figure 4 :  Likers of the photo in the first hour, sorted by size of account.


Continue to part 2 of this article.

You can also find more details on the smaudience Engage platform here.