Neil Patel

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The TikTok Algorithm Exposed

The tiktok algorithm exposed.

If you’ve been following digital trends, then you know TikTok has taken the world by storm. The viral dance challenges, the trendy DIYs, the insightful tutorials—there’s a seemingly endless stream of engaging content. It’s no wonder people spent almost 25 hours per month on it in 2021.

But, behind every viral video, an algorithm decides who sees what. It’s like the wizard behind the curtain, and today, we’re pulling back that curtain.

How do some videos get millions of views in just a few hours while others languish in obscurity? Can we really decode the TikTok algorithm, and if we do, can we then master it to our advantage?

Dive in with me as we expose, explore, and ultimately explain the inner workings of TikTok’s magic formula. Wouldn’t you want to know what makes TikTok tick?

What is the TikTok Algorithm?

When we talk about algorithms, especially in the context of social media, we’re referring to the complex set of rules and calculations that a platform like TikTok uses to decide which videos appear on your “For You Page” (FYP).

Tik tok video.

Think of the TikTok algorithm as a talent scout, constantly searching for the next big thing and ensuring that users get a curated feed filled with content they’re most likely to enjoy. It’s an ever-evolving system, designed to keep users engaged, entertained, and constantly scrolling for more.

Unlike a static set of rules, the TikTok algorithm learns from user behavior, which means the more you interact with the platform, the better it gets to know your preferences.

How The TikTok Algorithm Works

Now, let’s dive into the machinery behind the magic. At its core, the TikTok algorithm observes how users interact with the platform. Every like, share, comment, and even the length of time you watch a video feeds into this system. So whether you’re using TikTok for business or personal entertainment, knowing how it works is important. Here’s a simplified breakdown:

  • Initial Exposure: When you post a new video, TikTok doesn’t immediately show it to all your followers. Instead, it exposes the content to a small group of users to gauge initial reactions.
  • Engagement Analysis: TikTok monitors the engagement rate as users interact with your content. If your video gets a significant amount of likes, comments, shares, or even if people watch it multiple times, it’s seen as a positive sign.
  • Wider Distribution: Videos that perform well in the initial exposure phase are then shown to a broader audience. The more engagement the content accumulates, the wider its reach becomes. This is why sometimes a video might not go viral immediately but can explode in popularity a few days, or even weeks, after being posted.
  • Feedback Loop: This process is continuous. As the algorithm gets more user preferences and behavior data, it becomes better at predicting what they want to see, ensuring that the FYP remains fresh and tailored to each user.

The TikTok algorithm is a feedback-driven system that rewards content that resonates with users and keeps the platform’s content diverse and engaging. And while it might seem daunting, understanding its inner workings is the first step to creating content that really shines.

The Factors That Drive The TikTok Algorithm

While the exact mechanics behind the TikTok algorithm remain a well-guarded secret, we’ve identified several key factors that influence content distribution. Let’s delve into these driving elements:

User Interactions

This is where TikTok mirrors its pal, Instagram. The platform closely observes how users interact with content. For instance, it pays close attention to:

  • The videos you give a thumbs-up to.
  • The content you share with friends.
  • The creators you decide to follow.
  • The comments you leave behind.
  • Videos you save as favorites.

Here’s a fun fact: If you watch a video from start to finish, TikTok takes it as a hint that you’re into that type of content. So, if you often engage with a creator’s content, TikTok’s more likely to serve you more of their stuff than from someone you just follow and regularly scroll past.

Subject Matter (Video Information)

TikTok’s got this uncanny ability to know what you might be interested in. It’ll sift through:

  • Keywords in captions to gauge the content’s essence.
  • Hashtags to categorize and understand the video’s context.
  • Audio tracks, especially trending ones, to classify content and cater to larger audiences.

If you aim to ride the TikTok wave, paying attention to current trends is key. For example, using trending audio can significantly increase your chances of making it to more ‘For You’ pages.

If you’re looking to sell a product or service, you’ll need to ensure you’re keeping up with the latest tips on how to sell on TikTok, including showing relatable and relevant content for your target audience.

Yeti TikTok.

Location and Language

Your device settings, like location and language, also play a role, though perhaps more subtly. The algorithm factors in:

  • Your posting location.
  • Your language settings.
  • Even the type of mobile device you use.


There’s something magical about music on TikTok. Using a trending song or sound can propel your content into the TikTok stratosphere, making it a staple for those trying to capitalize on current trends.

“Not Interested” Feedback

TikTok is like that eager-to-please friend, always aiming to get it right. So, it genuinely values your feedback. Things like:

  • Videos you’ve clicked on as “Not Interested.”
  • TikTokers you’ve chosen to hide.
  • Even the videos you tend to skip.

The trick here is that each factor gets its unique weight in TikTok’s recommendation system. Some are more pivotal than others. So, no two ‘For You’ pages are ever the same, each tailored to what TikTok believes is your cup of tea.

What Doesn’t Impact The TikTok Algorithm

It’s just as important to understand what doesn’t influence the TikTok algorithm as it is to know what does. Clearing up these misconceptions can save marketers a lot of time and effort.

  • Posting Frequency: Contrary to popular belief, posting multiple times a day doesn’t guarantee more visibility. While it can increase your chances due to the sheer volume of content, the quality of the content truly matters.
  • Account Age: New accounts have just as much potential to go viral as older, more established ones. The algorithm prioritizes content quality and relevance over account longevity.
  • Followers Count: While having many followers can lead to higher initial engagement, the algorithm doesn’t favor creators based on their follower count. We’ve all seen relatively unknown creators go viral overnight.
  • Paid Promotions: TikTok’s organic content and its ad platform operate separately. Investing in TikTok ads won’t boost your organic content’s performance within the algorithm.

Types of Content the TikTik Algorithm Won’t Recommend

Let’s talk strategy. While jumping on every content bandwagon is super tempting, there’s a catch. Just as in baseball, you’ve got to play by the rules to hit a home run on TikTok. The app prioritizes user safety, which means certain content won’t get the algorithm’s love and recommendation even if it doesn’t breach local laws.

According to TikTok’s playbook, here’s a rundown of content that might stay on the platform, might be searchable, and might pop up in ‘Following’ feeds, but won’t get that coveted ‘For You’ recommendation:

  • Minor Safety Concerns: This refers to content that may pose a risk to younger audiences.
  • Dangerous Sports and Stunts: While that backflip might be cool, it might also encourage risky behavior.
  • Overtly Sexualized Content: TikTok is all for fun, but it draws the line at explicit or overly suggestive material.
  • Tobacco and Alcohol Products: Promoting these? Big no-no for broader recommendations.
  • Violent and Graphic Scenes: It’s a platform for fun and creativity, not for jarring content.
  • Spammy or Misleading Videos: Authenticity is key. If it smells fishy, it won’t get far.
  • Unoriginal and Low-Quality Shots: TikTok values creativity. Reposts, pixelated videos, or those sneaky QR codes won’t make the cut.

The game plan? Stick to creating genuine, high-quality, and engaging content. Dodge these pitfalls and align with the app’s community guidelines. By doing so, you’ll set yourself up for TikTok stardom, without any hiccups!

Making The TikTok Algorithm Work For Your Content

Ah, the golden question: How do you tailor your content to dance (pun intended) with the TikTok algorithm? You can skyrocket your content’s visibility by focusing on the known factors that drive the algorithm and implementing best practices. Here’s how:

  • Engage with Trends, but with Authenticity: Trends on TikTok come and go, but it’s essential to put your unique spin on them. Remember, raw and genuine content tends to resonate more with TikTok users. An example? The viral #Renegade dance saw many unique renditions, but those that stood out added their flavor or told a story.
  • Interactive Captions: Pose questions, challenges, or narratives in your captions to encourage viewers to interact, comment, or share. For instance, the “Tell me without telling me” trend prompted tons of users to share stories in unique ways.
  • High-Quality Production: Clear visuals and good audio can make a difference. Videos that are blurry or have muffled sounds often get skipped.
  • Engage with Your Audience: Respond to comments, engage with other creators, and actively participate in your community.
  • Analyze and Adapt: Use TikTok’s in-built analytics to understand what’s working and what’s not. If dance videos get more engagement, perhaps that’s a route to explore more!
  • Consistency is Key: While posting frequency doesn’t affect the algorithm directly, consistency keeps you on the radar. It also gives you more chances to hit upon that viral content formula.

On TikTok, where the offbeat and eclectic content reigns supreme, brands like Duolingo have seamlessly woven themselves into the fabric of the platform. Let’s take a moment to applaud Duolingo.

It’s not just about learning languages with them — they’re making waves with their catchy, in-trend content, often starring their unmistakable mascot, Duo the owl.

Duolingo tik tok.

Source: Duolingo TikTok

You’ll find Duo grooving to the latest tracks, dishing out humorous takes on current events, and staying ahead of the TikTok trend curve. It’s more than just virality — Duo’s escapades give the brand a relatable touch, making it resonate with the TikTok audience.

Duolingo TikTok.

Source: Duolingo TikTok

Your brand’s digital persona, its voice, is the backbone of every piece of content you put out there, right down to how you engage with comments. Duolingo is a masterclass in this, effectively using its distinctive brand voice to spin engaging and unforgettable tales on TikTok.


What are the core factors that influence the TikTok algorithm?

The primary drivers include user interaction, video information (like captions and hashtags), account and device information, video engagement, and feedback (both positive and negative).

Is the TikTok algorithm constantly changing?

Like most platforms, TikTok continually refines its algorithm to enhance user experience. So while the core principles might remain consistent, small tweaks and changes can occur.

How can I optimize my content to perform well in the TikTok algorithm?

Focus on creating high-quality, authentic content. Engage with trends, ensure clear audio and visuals, interact with your audience, and use relevant hashtags and captions. Analyzing your performance metrics can also provide insights for improvement.

Are there any tips or tricks to “hack” the TikTok algorithm?

There’s no secret shortcut. The best approach is to consistently create content that resonates with your audience, stay updated with platform trends, and engage genuinely. Authenticity tends to win on TikTok.

How often does the TikTok algorithm update?

Exact timelines aren’t public knowledge, but like most platforms, TikTok likely updates its algorithm in response to user behavior changes, platform updates, or to improve content relevancy.

Is there a way to reset or restart the TikTok algorithm?

While there’s no official “reset” button, changing your engagement patterns, like interacting with different content or using the “Not Interested” option more frequently, can influence the kind of content TikTok shows you. Some users also swear by taking a short break from the platform. Remember, your content’s success primarily hinges on its quality and relevance.


TikTok has taken the world by storm, creating an entirely new genre of viral content and trends. While its algorithm might seem like an enigma wrapped in a mystery, the truth is, it’s built to enhance user engagement and experience. And that’s good news for content creators. Because at its core, the TikTok algorithm rewards authenticity, creativity, and genuine engagement.

So, whether you’re a brand aiming to increase its reach or an individual hoping to be the next TikTok sensation, the approach remains the same. Create, engage, adapt, and remain authentic. The algorithm, while intricate, simply mirrors the platform’s essence: to bring joy, creativity, and a bit of dance into our lives.

What unique stories or experiences can you bring to the TikTok table to make the algorithm work in your favor?

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