How to Get Your Post in the Instagram Top Posts Area

Instagram Top Posts: How to Get there.

Instagram Top Posts have existed for a good year now but I have yet to write about them. However, getting my content trending in the top posts area is one of the most important aspects of my Instagram marketing strategy. First, I should caveat that if you go all laser-focused/obsessed about creating content that will trend, or “go viral,” you are going to live sorely disappointed. The ability to trend is not a given, but you can be aware of what the good qualities of “trending” content are. Use this knowledge to put forth your A-game each day. (Isn’t this what we should be doing as marketers, anyway?)

Instagram Top Posts are one of the most important aspects of my #Instagram marketing strategy. Click To Tweet

What are Instagram Top Posts?

When you go to the Explore tab in the Instagram app and type in a hashtag, the “Top Posts” area is the grid of 9 posts at the top. These are posts that Instagram has selected, presumably through some kind of algorithm, to be featured. Per usual, we don’t know the EXACT formula for getting to this coveted spot, but I’ve identified some general “rules” through trial and experience.

In the above image, I’m showing two examples. One for the hashtag #handlettering (which has quite a few results, 3+ million), and one using the hashtag #instagramtips (almost 50k results).

I’m going to get to the “how to get here” in a moment. Before that, I wanted to break down the top post results for both of these hashtags for context. Here is how things break down:

Top Post Examples Breakdown in a table

Remember that #handlettering has over 3 million results showing for that hashtag, and #instagramtips has around 50k. A few observations here:

  • The trending posts are not always from the biggest accounts. On #handlettering, the top result is from an account with 72,000 followers. An account with almost a half a million followers is in the four-spot. A “smaller” account with just 27,900 followers is trending at the six-spot.
  • While you don’t have to have the biggest account to win the top spot, for hashtags with a higher number of results (like #handlettering), you are more likely to win a trending spot if your account is larger. While I have seen some really small accounts trend for a giant hashtag, it doesn’t happen all that often. If you are sitting there with 600 followers, I wouldn’t become obsessed with trying to trend for #handlettering. I would look for something else in that hashtag family with fewer results to try and trend for.
  • The larger the hashtag, the more quickly the trending posts are refreshed. For a large hashtag like our #handlettering example, it’s unlikely that you would stay in a trending spot for more than 24-hours. But for smaller hashtags, like #instagramtips, you may be able to remain trending for a day or two (or more)!

These observations are not just based on these two examples.  They are based on my ALL observations from the time that Instagram Top Posts were rolled out, but I’ve chosen these two examples to illustrate my thoughts.

Tips for Trending Content

So now that we understand a little bit about who is sitting in these top spots, I’ll share my tips for getting there:

  • First, you don’t see spammy, crappy content up here. The one thing that all of this trending content has in common is that it is high-quality and adds value to the person consuming it. Learn more about developing high quality social media content here. Tip: Bring your A-game every day and post beautiful images with valuable captions.
  • Because you see a mix of larger and smaller accounts (even on the #handlettering example, a 27k follower account is WAY different in size than the 445k follower account), I believe that engagement is a huge success-factor. Likewise, whenever I post something that gets a lot of likes and comments, it trends 99% of the time. Tip: ASK for engagement, post things that inspire comments and likes, and post at your best time.
  • Engagement is great, but quick engagement is even better. Trending posts generally take their position within the first 24 hours of posting, so you need it to happen fast. Tip: (Again) Post at your best time, but also use the right mix of hashtags to get some quick engagement (even if it isn’t the most genuine).
Help your #Instagram content to trend in the top posts area by posting at your optimal time. Click To Tweet

Picking the Best Hashtags

If you spend any time on Instagram at all, you know that the spam game is strong right now. Like, for every genuine and thoughtful comment, you get 9 emoji-only smiley faces that mean squat. While it’s usually really annoying, it can actually be helpful if you are trying to get to the Instagram Top Posts area.

The first step here is being aware of what is realistic for YOU to trend for. For me, while I HAVE trended for #socialmedia before (4.6 million results), with my current 11k followers, I’m more likely to trend for smaller, highly targeted hashtags like #socialmediamanager or #instagramtips. I’ve talked a lot in the past about picking hashtags, and how hashtag relevancy is more important than the number of results for that hashtag. That holds true here.

#Love has a gazillion results, but it’s very, very generic. If you are selling shoes, it isn’t going to serve you well. The same principle applies here. It would be awesome to trend for some huge hashtag like #instagood, but who cares if your target audience isn’t looking there?

You know your hashtags should be highly targeted and relevant, regardless of size. However, if you want a shot at trending, you will also want to include 3-5 “big” hashtags, that are less-targeted. For me, it’s hashtags like #entreprenuer, #business, and #marketing. They are still highly relevant to me, but they have a lot of results, and therefore a lot of folks double-tapping up a storm.

A Frequently Asked Question

I’m feeling like someone may ask, “Can I go pay for some likes to get my content to the top posts area?” And the answer is NO. You can’t. It might feel good in the short term, but this kind of practice dilutes the effectiveness of Instagram (or any social media) over the long term. You are ruining it for everyone, including yourself. So just don’t.

Have you ever had one of your posts reach the Instagram Top Posts area? What would you add to these tips?







2018 Instagram Strategy Guide

2018 insta strategy guide cover

What will you do different in 2018 that will help you stand out, build your brand and increase your authority on Instagram? The answers are in this free, 11-page guide.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit


  1. Reply Amanda

    Yes, I trend in the top area of some of my hashtags and have noticed all of the tips that you mentioned. 🙂 Immediate engagement does seem to play the biggest role for me. Although I never thought of using generic hashtags to bump up my immediate engagement! Thank you and I love your blog, always useful stuff!

    • Reply Joe

      I get at least a few Top Posts every time I post a photo (I’ve been photographing obsessively since 1999, so it’s no surprise) – but when I check the same hashtag on a friend’s phone I don’t see me photo… thoughts?

      • Reply Molly Marshall

        Yes… the “Top 9” are now personalized by user… so not everyone sees the same trending photos!

  2. Reply Leo

    The right hashtags can really get more likes and views for your post. But remember not to overdo hashtags, 4-6 hashtags are enough.

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Actually, I feel that on Instagram, you can’t really “overdo” hashtags. Too many hashtags are definitely an issue on other platforms, but Instagram allows 30, and I teach people to use all 30. So far, there hasn’t shown to be negative consequences to using that many!

      • Reply Devante Lewis

        Using 30 doesn’t help unless your account is very small. Using 6-10 very specific hashtags is better, especially if you are posting 2 or 3 times a day. You can only be on about 10 top hashtags at a time, so using 120 hashtags a day just takes you off of the top hashtags that you got on. If you are on a really big hashtag, don’t post for a few hours so you don’t kick yourself off. It all differs on account size. The smaller your account, the more hashtags you should use.

  3. Reply Luis

    Great article, we were wondering how the top posts worked and if there was an order for the 9 positions, thank you, because you solved all our doubts. We are trending right now with the 30daysofbiblelettering hashtag that has almost 100k posts, and we are currently in the 4th position with just 2k. Other positions are 150k,20k,10k and so relevant to the lettering community. We got 64 comments a little bit over 600 views and over 200 likes. Do you know if there’s an equivalence for likes vs comments vs views? which ones weight most for engagement?

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      We don’t know the exact algorithm used to determine who makes it to the top posts area, but we can assume it has to do with engagement and the speed with which that engagement happened!

  4. Reply Lisa

    I’ve hit the top post for several hashtags at once right now for the one image ( #ringdish #ringholder #porcelain #somethingblue ). It’s so exciting! I only have 1400 followers. I’ve gained 65 new followers in one day and have 550 likes on my image (my usual is about 50). @springwoodporcelain

  5. Reply Foggish

    Hi, thanks for a great article, for the first time I have one image trending on 5 different hashtags including #valfre and #darlingdistraction and I only have 77 followers…(I’m pretty new to the insta game). I’ve picked up 6 new followers and 70 likes my average is 50ish. I’m just wondering how comes I’m up there when all the posts are in the 100’s of likes? Pretty awesome though.

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      It’s hard to know exactly why you made it – but great job! Enjoy it 🙂

  6. Reply Roni Rozen

    Even if i see that im on the top post (which occurs frequently), if i write the same tag from a different user i dont see my photo on the top post?!!?
    I am confused.. what does it mean?

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      That’s a good question – and it might have to do with the Instagram “shadowban” that everyone is talking about. I haven’t written anything on it yet, because I am still researching but stay tuned for more info. Frustrating for sure!

    • Reply Rose

      I had the same thing happened to me and it all went back to normal when I stopped hiding my hashtags. Weird but all my posts with hidden hashtags were shadowbanned. Hope this is useful

      • Reply Molly Marshall

        What do you mean about hiding your hashtags? Like putting them in your comments instead of captions?

  7. Reply Jordan

    So this is something that I have just tried for the first time, smaller hashtags, but I noticed that I come up for some of them when I look from my account but I tried looking from another account and I wasn’t up there ? Any thoughts?

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Yes, Jordan – that sounds like the Instagram “shadowban.” The shadowban is where Instagram will suppress your photos from some (or all) of the hashtag feeds of the hashtags you used. Were these new hashtags that you had never used before? Did they accurately describe your photo? I’m working on an article on this topic that should go up here on the blog next week!

      • Reply Derek

        I’m having a similar problem. I’m using low number hashtags which allow me to show among the 9 top posts when viewed from my account, or from one of my follower’s accounts, but not when viewed from a non follower’s account. The odd thing is that my post is not fully shadowbanned, as it shows in the timeline, just not in the top post section. So, what should we do to be able to get back in the top posts for non-followers?

        • Reply Naomi

          I am having the same issue! My post says it is not shadow banned when i have tested it, yet when i check on a diff account i cant see my photo in the top 9

          • Molly Marshall

            Naomi, I have not found those “shadowban testers” to be reliable at all. The best way to see if you are shadowbanned is to go search for your stuff from an account that does not follow you. Perhaps create a separate account that you can log in to just for this purpose? Or have a friend that doesn’t follow your business account check for you? Also, it seems reasonable that Instagram may be trying to customize the content people see so they are seeing the most relevant content possible – maybe the Top 9 aren’t the same for everyone under a given hashtag?

  8. Reply Jennifer Miller

    Yes all of these things are necessary to get to the top post. Every time I post a picture it will go to the top for some time. It varies between 1-2 days. However recently I have noticed multiple photos of mine rotating in a top post of one specific tag I use all the time. I am trying to figure out how permanent this is because a photo of mine is always there and it’s about 2 weeks since I noticed. Every time I make a post it goes to the top and the same things happen every time . My photos are good captures with targeted audiences that I attract with multiple hashtags ( some large and some small) As soon as I post the speed is about 1-2 likes per minute which generally will put it in the top within the hour or two of posting. The amount of likes come from followers and prospective new followers but I am sure the ratio matters here as well. I am sure that Instagram can somehow tell the amount of new followers that you gain per post and this could have a factor with what determines good quality photos . In short hashtags matter, speed and the ratio matter, the amount of likes matter, and I believe the amount of new followers you can gain with that post matter too. I have a new account and is growing rapidly and I continue to do the same thing.

  9. Reply vlad

    i have problem…. i got fast 300 likes after post…and on small hashtags (top 9 250likes) im still not on top … why? i dont have a lot followers (1500)…
    my post is now on 700 likes and im still out of top. 🙁
    btw i can see my photo down…(no shadowban)

    can someone help me … how is this posible…. im rly mad now
    sorry for my bad english… im not native speaker. 🙁

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Hi there Vlad – getting in the Top 9 isn’t ALL about the number of likes you have on a post – it’s a complex algorithm, and honestly, we don’t know what makes it up. Keep trying! I know this sounds cliche, but focus on delivering valuable content to your audience. Focus on serving your people – that is what is most important to Instagram success! If you aren’t serving your audience well, trending doesn’t matter! Good luck.

  10. Reply B

    I am new to instagram 5days. Posting once a day. Today,s piece landed in two top post areas. I have 2 followers but it got liked immediately by 11 people in the first seconds it was up with one follow. I wonder because at least three were big in my industry. I was so pleased!
    Btw, where are you supposed to put the hashtags? I put mine below the caption. Is that right?

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      That’s amazing! You can put your hashtags below the caption or in your first comment. Either place works as long as you place them right away!

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Hi Palash – I can absolutely review your Instagram account. Account reviews are $99 and I return them to you within a few business days. Just send me your email through my contact form and we can get started. Thanks!

  11. Reply Clara for EF

    Hi there! I am very excited because our account @efthymis_fokas_shoes reached top post for #shopify and I only have 370 followers so it is quite amazing! We are still creating our shop in Shopifysince until now we were only working in Etsy.
    I think we are on the good week I will be doing my first promotion on Instagram. Wish me luck!

  12. Reply Pearl

    Pearl October 17

    Hi Molly,I am new to Instagram for almost 3 month , I have 85 post, and 61 followers .Some of my posts get very good comments by people, and I had offer for job. Also ask print my work too. sometimes I am on the top posts. My last photo was in top post on 13 hashtag almost for a day but, they are very poor in likes, I had 17 likes on my last post. I think being in the top post is not meaning you are going to get likes as well. I can understand what is the problem . Would you please explane to me what is going on? Thanks a lot .

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Hi there – it’s really difficult to know exactly how Instagram determines how you get in to the Top Posts area. When you compare all of the photos that appear in the Top 9, it can look really disparate. The accounts may have widely varying numbers of followers. The amount of engagement on each post could be drastically different. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to crack the code 🙂 but we never will. Instead, let’s focus on creating and sharing high quality content, engaging with the fans we already have and developing relationships with them, and working on our back-end sales systems… and you will drive business through Insta!

  13. Reply Juhita Gupta

    Thank you for the article. I have seen my posts on the Top posts on Instagram for a small hashtag (minimalistfashion) and was wondering how I got there. I’m very new to Instagram (been active for about a month now) and only recently made my account public. I have a very small number of followers (about 120) so was a little confused with the results. I do write detailed captions for each of my posts, do you know if that has any bearing on featuring in the top post? Also are the top posts sort of personalised? I’m really skeptical of why I’m on the top post 😜 so just trying to understand it fully

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Yes, the “Top 9” are personalized by user… so Friend A will see a different Top 9 for any given hashtag than Friend B will see. Make sense?

  14. Reply Deborah

    Hi, thanks for this article ! I have an instagram account with a quite good engagement. I used to have my posts featured in top posts with specific hashtags all the time. But now, they never appear in top posts although nothing has changed in my posts, there is always good and quick engagement. For exemple, I have a post with 150 likes in 2 hours (with 2000 followers) but it doesn’t appear in top posts, although i sometimes see posts with 30 likes in some specific hashtags I use… Because of that I have less likes in the end. I checked with another account, i’m not shadowbanned. Do you think we can be banned from top posts only ? Has the algorithm change recently ? thanks for your help

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      The Top 9 varies by user. Instagram is always trying to show a user the most relevant results for THAT USER… so you could be in someone’s Top 9, and you just aren’t seeing it. We’ll never have all the answers! 🙂

  15. Reply Sheebu

    This post was really helpful! Also how long do posts stay in top posts – does number of likes have a role to play in duration?

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      It really varies as to how long you will stay in the top posts! Usually it is around 24 hours.

  16. Reply holly

    I’m just here because i’m really confused! i used to get into the top posts a lot, but now i see posts with around 70 likes and no comments in the top posts, yet my post with over 1000 likes doesn’t show up in any of the top posts for hashtags. it’s baffling my mind!

  17. Reply Ed

    I posted a video yesterday at an NBA Game (Wizards vs Grizzlies) with no hashtags but I put the location (Wizards vs Grizzlies). Today when I looked at my views I had 10,000 views of the video. I then looked at the Top post for Wizards vs Grizzlies and saw that I was number 1. I didn’t engage, heck I only had 2 comments so it was nothing to engage with. I only have 2,000 followers. Now the official Wizards IG page has 800K followers and they had 3 of the top 9 posts. Still can’t figure out how I made number 1. Must have been the content as I did have a good view of just behind the Wizards bench. But I normally only get about 100-200 views. I wish I could figure out how I got that Top post.

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Congrats! That is so interesting. I think we tend to overlook the fact that there are many ways for Instagram to figure out what your content is about… LIKE the location and even the text of your caption. That’s awesome!

  18. Reply Robert

    Why is Instagram changed top posts? Now all old posts and mine who usually made it there dosent. It is very strange. Did they change something?

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      They are always changing things! They’ve recently released the ability to follow hashtags in your own feed, so it’s possible the “Top 9” could be going away soonish… or not. Maybe it’s just algorithm changes. It’s difficult to tell.

  19. Reply Rod Major

    I’m a landscape painter and have 24k followers. Until the last few months, I was nearly always in the top posts of my hashtags (#pleinair #pleinairpainting #impressionism etc), with average likes around 1,600 per post. Now I don’t get a look in on any hashtag top posts – not even the small ones. My followers growth has also slowed down as a result. I post one item every two days. Like others, my posts appear in the time feed of the hashtag, but that’s as far as they get. My latest post for example has 828 likes in five hours – and not in any of the top posts. Regards.

  20. Reply Beth

    Hi- I have been reading the responses, and it would appear that other people have had the same problem I have. I have an account of about 21K and I used to consistently place in the the top 9 in all of my hashtags for several days based on the criteria you mentioned (except for the major tags of course which may be a few minutes to never). With in the last few months I do not trend at all in the top 9 of any hashtag. Something changed and I cannot determine what, but it is obvious. I am now trying to discover how to “fix” the problem, which nobody can actually define. If you come across any insight it would be useful in a future blog. Thanks

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      Hi Beth, I recommend that you check out my shadowbanning article. Just because you don’t see yourself in the top 9 doesn’t mean you aren’t appearing in the top 9 for ANYONE, but you still might want to check it out.

  21. Reply Eric

    Great article, thanks for the information! Do you know a tool that would show me which of my hashtags reached top 9, instead of having to look it out one by one?

  22. Reply Norine Borys

    Very interesting article, and especially the comments reflecting the changes with the Instagram Top Posts algorithm in the last 4-6 weeks. And like others I’m trying to figure out how it currently works. I used to have every one of my posts trend for the hashtag most appropriate to my interest (#cardmaking – fewer than a million total posts in the feed) and I attributed it to high follower engagement (300-600 likes/photo) per number of followers (4000+) ratio. However, since the IG scientists changed things up, I no longer see my posts in the Top Posts ever, but besides that, the photos I can see trending in Top Posts never change!? I will see the same posts in the same positions for up to a week. It’s the weirdest thing!? I haven’t yet experimented to see if others – non-followers – can see my posts, because I’m not overly concerned, since it hasn’t really affected user engagement on my feed; it’s more that I’m just super curious about what’s up? You can’t optimally use the platform for growth without understanding how it works. I’m going to keep watching the comments here with the hopes that someone sheds some light on this mystery.

    • Reply Molly Marshall

      I think the most important thing to remember here is that the Top 9 are customized to the user, just like the Explore tab. Instagram shows you the content that they believe is most relevant to YOU. It’s based off of your recent activity, who you follow, who you comment to, like, etc… so it actually might be hard to find yourself in the Top 9. I’m starting to think of it as more like an extension of the Explore page. Instead of a “this is what is trending today” it’s more like, “this is what has been popular in the last week or so that you might be interested in.” 😉

  23. Reply vamshikrishna

    Thanks for sharing such a useful article. I am looking for the same how to trend my web articles on Instagram. I got the better solution from here. Once again thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *