How the TikTok Algorithm Works in 2020 (and How to Work With It)
Users spend an average of 46 minutes on TikTok daily. But the question is: how can you get your videos to catch your audience’s attention during that time? While there’s no magic recipe, coming to grips with the TikTok algorithm can help you work with it and improve your odds of success.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s explore the various ranking factors at play and how you can leverage them to get your content to rank on the sixth largest global social network.
Let’s get to it.
Bonus: Want to know how a viral social video creator makes millions of dollars in sales? Download the free guide now.
How the TikTok algorithm works
For a long time, TikTok remained mum about how it ranked content. Influencers and others who succeeded in getting their content onto the For You page offered some guesswork that gave a rough framework to follow. Ultimately, those were all darts thrown in the dark.
Fortunately, TikTok has recently lifted the veil, highlighting the major ranking factors that run the show.
Each of these are explained below in order of their importance:
1. User interaction
Much like Instagram’s algorithm, the TikTok algorithm serves users posts they engage with. If there’s a specific account they interact with a lot, they’re more likely to see content from it. It’s the same with the videos they tend to like and share most often.
The strongest ranking indicator in this category, however, is the video completion rate. This means if users watch a video in full, it’s more likely to be pushed for further distribution to other feeds than the one that viewers scrolled past or watched for a second or two.
For creators and businesses, this means making videos that hold viewers’ attention till the end is the key to making it to the For You page, TikTok’s version of Instagram’s Explore page.
2. Video information
Again, the algorithm is more likely to push content that a user explores. So, for instance, if users often search for a particular hashtag or enjoy content with a specific sound bite, they’re more likely to see videos with the same hashtag and sound.
This explains why you see more of #ohnanachallenge videos in your For You page if you’ve watched some videos with the hashtag recently and are obsessed with it like I am (anyone?).
3. Account or device setting
Lastly, users’ location, language preference, and device type also play a role as these optimize the watching experience. However, they don’t have as much weight as other ranking signals. In other words, TikTok allows you to reach a global audience—but it’s also going to show users videos created by people in their area.
But the question remains: how do new TikTok accounts go viral?
You see, TikTok shows all videos, irrespective of who posts them, to its interested users. So when a video is posted:
- The algorithm shows it to an account’s followers and people likely to be interested in it. Or, if it’s a new profile, it shows the video to a small subset of users who might be interested in the content.
- From there on, users’ interaction with the content decides its fate and further distribution: do people watch it to completion? Do they leave a comment, give it a thumbs up, or share it?
- Positive user response to a video tells the algorithm to show the video to more consumers, helping it get the exposure it deserves. As for poor user response – well, you do the math.
All this explains why the For You pages feature a combination of highly engaged videos and videos that barely have any views.
The TikTok algorithm doesn’t explicitly give preference to follower count as a ranking signal. Sure, people with high follower counts get more video views and engagement due to their large followings, but this doesn’t mean new accounts don’t stand a chance.
11 tips for working with the TikTok algorithm
1. Create short, 15-second long videos
TikTok lets you create 15- and 60-second long videos. However, you’re more likely to get your audience to watch bite-sized, engaging videos for longer (or, fingers crossed, in full) than minute long ones. Naturally, this boosts your video completion rate, the strongest TikTok algorithm ranking factor..
2. Create video content that engages viewers from the start
Work on your video’s opening. Unnecessarily long intros are a buzzkill. So, introduce a hook into your video within three seconds so viewers don’t yawn and scroll past it.
One good way to trim the fluff in your opening is to cut out the beginning section of every intro you shoot until you get the hook right.
My new best friend is a little different but cool once you get to know him.
3. Add an engaging caption
TikTok beats tweets to writing short captions. One thing is for sure though – you need to be compelling despite having a 150-character limit (including any hashtags you add). An engaging caption can go a long way in encouraging your audience to watch your video, even till the end.
How? Stir curiosity by saying something along the lines of ‘you’ve got to watch this till the end’ or ‘it took me X attempts to get the end right.’
Question-based captions help as well. These encourage viewers to leave comments on your content – another “engagement” ranking factor to play along with.
4. Pay attention to each video you create
TikTok shows all videos, irrespective of the creator’s follower count, to a set of potentially interested users. So, you don’t have to build an audience first (as is the norm these days) and get video views second.
Put another way, so long as your content is good, it’ll pick up steam in the algorithm. So, don’t lose heart if a couple of your initial videos haven’t done well on TikTok. Chances are, you’ll end up creating a video that the audience loves.
5. Create high-quality videos that are well-edited
If you already haven’t given up on grainy, poor quality videos, you should now. Remember video completion is the name of the game on TikTok. And good video quality ensures more video views.
TikTok is also the network that rewards good editing skills. So, make the most of TikTok’s video editing features including available filters, stickers, effects, templates, and other editing options. Check out Jason Derulo smartly using stickers in his video for some inspiration:
What time is it where u are?
6. Post when your audience is active and most engaged
While this is obvious for most social platforms, it’s particularly important for TikTok. Active users’ engagement with your content tells the recommendation system to push your video.
Get a TikTok Pro Account (it’s free) to fetch data on your followers’ most active times under Follower activity in the Follower Tab section. Then, post when your analytics shows your followers are most likely to be online.
7. Engage with other TikTokers
Leaving comments and engaging with others’ content encourages them to return your comments and shares.
There’s a science to this as well, summed up under the law of reciprocity, which states that when person A does something nice for person B (in this case, leaving comments), person B feels an urge to return the favor (i.e. comment back and perhaps more).
Getting comments and shares on your videos means the TikTok algorithm will be more likely to pick them up.
8. Use the correct hashtags
Two types of hashtags can help you grow on TikTok:
For You page hashtags
This includes #fyp, #foryou, and #foryoupage just as Chipotle does:
While there’s no guarantee these hashtags will get you ranking (since the tag is very crowded), it doesn’t hurt to add one.
When something starts trending, more and more people flock toward it. And if you create truly awesome videos for trending hashtags, you’re likely to attract a sizeable part of the crowd to your content
Go on to look up trending hashtags in the Discover Tab of your account to add your creative twist to the hashtags. Here’s Jade Darmawangsa doing the same for the #voguechallenge:
My body type didn’t really fit “Vogue” so… #voguechallenge
9. Join hashtag challenges
Over at TikTok, hashtag challenges are all the rage. In fact, they’re a good way to come up with new ideas for content.
People enjoy consuming videos made for hashtag challenges, keeping an eye out for those who add a unique creative spin to the challenge. Others, who plan to create a video for the challenge, view videos under the tag for inspiration.
Either way, participating in a hashtag challenge is an excellent way to grow your video views and gain favor with the algorithm. Find the prevailing hashtag challenges from the Discover tab.
10. Use trending sounds and music in your videos
Just as hashtags trend, sounds also ride the popularity wave on TikTok. This means creating videos to these trending sounds can help you tap into the algorithm further. Take a look at Falafel Kimchi using the trending Banana sound:
The question now is, how can you tell which sound or song is trending today? The answer isn’t as straightforward as finding trending hashtags. You’ll need to open your video editor and click Sounds on the top. Scroll down to find trending sounds.
You can also gather trending sounds from your TikTok Pro Account. Spot what your followers have been listening to in the last seven days under the Follower tabs.
11. Make sure people can interact with your content
If you already didn’t know, here’s something really smart about TikTok: it makes downloading videos and cross promoting them on other platforms a piece of cake.
Enabling your download option lets people share your content on other social channels. You’d be surprised by the number of TikTokers I’ve followed that I discovered on Twitter.
What’s more, keep your duet option open. Duets are videos a TikTok user creates alongside another creator’s original video. Like here:
Thank you so much for the advice! You are a life saver! #duet with @brandenzipp
If your video is exceptional and people play along by creating duet videos, you can bump your chances of getting noticed on TikTok. Want more people to duet with you? Consider adding the #duetwithme hashtag to your caption.
Ultimately, there is no way to “hack” the TikTok algorithm. But by using the tips above, and by creating quality content that resonates with your audience, you’ll give your videos a greater chance to be seen by more people.