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How the TikTok Algorithm Works + Five Tips To Drive Advertising Results in 2023

Malina Mitchell
Digital Marketing Associate
Oct 13, 2022

Recently, we shared how the TikTok ads library works. In this post, learn what makes the TikTok algorithm tick, how to leverage it in 2023, and how you can get your best advertising results with a digital marketing strategy from Search Discovery.

What is the TikTok algorithm?

The TikTok algorithm is a personalized recommendation system that populates tailored content for each user on their “For You” page (FYP) based on unique user interests. Since every user’s TikTok FYP is highly personalized, no two users will have the same kind of videos displayed.

A user’s TikTok FYP may also change over time based on the kind of content they interact with. For example, if a user who commonly views marketing-related TikToks begins interacting with cat-themed TikToks, their FYP will begin to display cat-themed videos over marketing-related ones. As user viewing behavior and preferences change, so will the content displayed on their TikTok FYP.

The TikTok algorithm is a personalized recommendation system that populates tailored content for each user on their “For You” page (FYP) based on unique user interests. These are examples of TikTok FYP pages.
Examples of different TikTok FYP pages. Source.

TikTok describes the logic behind their recommendations algorithm for the Tiktok FYP as:

“The system recommends content by ranking videos based on a combination of factors – starting from interests you express as a new user and adjusting for things you indicate you’re not interested in, too – to form your personalized For You feed.”

TikTok algorithm in 2022

It’s no secret TikTok’s main goal is to grow daily users. To accomplish this objective, TikTok optimizes user-served content to maximize retention and time spent on the platform.

A non-technical explanation of TikTok’s algorithm was leaked, giving users a better understanding as to how best to tailor content to maximize reach and exposure on the platform.

The key ranking factors that TikTok uses for their algorithm are

  • User Interactions
  • Video Information
  • Device and Account Settings

User Interactions

Based on how users interact with the content on the app, TikTok determines the kinds of videos each viewer likes and doesn’t like and makes recommendations for content similar to a user’s preferences.

These determining interactions include

  • What accounts a user follows
  • Where a user posts comments
  • What kind of videos users create
  • What content users like
  • What content users share
  • Favorite-ed videos
  • Videos users spend a longer time watching
  • Interactions with ads
  • Videos users mark as “not interested” or inappropriate

Video Information

TikTok also determines what kind of content users like based on the information found within the videos users watch. These preferences are referred to as video information signals and are usually collected when users engage with videos in the “discover” tab within the platform.

Video information signals include

  • Video captions
  • Sounds used in the video
  • Hashtags
  • Effects used in the video
  • Videos related to trending topics
  • Content found in the transcripts of videos

Device and Account Settings

Account and device settings also help TikTok determine how to better optimize the app’s performance for each user.

Device settings include

  • Language preference
  • Country
  • Location
  • Type of mobile device
  • Category selection

Device and account settings are typically selected when a user first downloads TikTok and rarely change over time. This causes device and account settings to have a lesser impact on the algorithm when compared to user interactions and video information.

The best brands on TikTok take advantage of Target Audiences for better ad experiences

Like many other ad platforms, TikTok ads that have the highest quality and are most relevant to users will be shown more prominently.

The level of engagement plays a very important role in how TikTok ads are ranked and shown. TikTok ads that get more likes, shares, and comments are more likely to show up more frequently. Also, TikToks that have high watch time or watch loops are more likely to be shown and recommended.

TikTok also has features in their campaign management that allows advertisers to target TikTok ads to users based on different audience variations, including the following:

  • Created audiences
  • Demographics (age, gender, location, language)
  • User interests and past behaviors
  • Device type
  • General interests
  • Video interactions based on video categories
  • Creator interactions

These audience targeting features allow for each TikTok user to have a different ad experience based on their interests, interactions, and general user settings & information.

Factors that don’t influence the TikTok algorithm

Follower count and past video performance don’t influence the algorithm. This means that if a brand is just starting their TikTok, it’s possible for them to create a popular trending video or to get recommended to others. Advertisers can start by specifically targeting audiences that would be interested in their brand.

You can start to discover which audiences are interested in your brand based on the engagement and amount of time people spend on your content. Additionally, you can identify key user segments in your other first party data sources like site-side analytics to understand which audiences will be your ideal targets.

It’s also important to understand the kind of content that will not be recommended by the algorithm at all. These include the following:

  • Exact duplicate content
  • Content the algorithm has flagged as spam
  • Content that goes against TikTok’s guidelines
  • Content that can upset a majority of users

Five tips to make the TikTok algorithm work for you in 2023

Driving engagement is the main key for making the TikTok algorithm work for advertisers, so here are five of the best TikTok Tips to continue to drive engagement in 2023:

1. Get your audience’s attention within the video’s first three seconds

  • Because TikTok videos are short, it’s important that advertisers have an interesting, compelling hook to keep people interested in their video.
  • Fast-paced videos are ideal for TikTok. Since users can quickly scroll from video to video, brands need to give viewers a reason to stop scrolling.
  • Also, users are more likely to rewatch a video if important content is given quickly. If the key focus of the video is shown within the first three seconds, watchers are more likely to repeat the video in order to hear the content again.
  • Viewers are also more likely to watch a TikTok in full if it’s between ten and fifteen seconds long.
  • TikTok’s algorithm also keeps note of videos that a majority of people have watched fully, and is more likely to recommend them to others.
  • Starting your video with a powerful emotion and using text overlays, sound effects, filters, and voice-overs will help to quickly grab viewers’ attention.

2. Use hashtags

Just like many other social media platforms, TikTok has hashtags that allow users to view videos collected under the same kind of content or keywords. Hashtags make it easier for people to search and find videos related to a specific topic.

Hashtags also help tell the TikTok algorithm what a video is about. If TikTok knows people are interested in videos with a certain hashtag, the algorithm recommends more videos under that hashtag.

Businesses can participate in branded hashtag challenges by purchasing a hashtag from TikTok. In this type of advertising campaign, brands prompt users to create their own videos and then post those videos with the brand-sponsored hashtag. These branded hashtag challenges show up as a display or banner ad on a user’s Discover page.

Example of a TikTok ad Hashtag Challenge from Project Power.
Example of a TikTok ad Hashtag Challenge from Project Power. Source.

Hashtag challenges let brands leverage user-created content while reaching a broad, interested audience. Notably, eCommerce businesses can take advantage of special challenges that let users browse or purchase products directly from the sponsored ad hashtag.

3. Find your niche culture and engage with your audience

Since engagement is an important factor for the TikTok algorithm, it’s important for advertisers to find users with specific brand-related interests to regularly engage. This allows your brand to tap into a community on TikTok.

Find communities by searching for interests on the Discover page. You can also find communities by following the interests of users who have engaged with your content the most and, through them, finding more like-interested people to engage.

Being a part of a TikTok community can help brands structure content ideas for improved engagement. Also, based on the way TikTok’s algorithm works, joining an existing community will automatically allow advertisers’ content to become prioritized and recommended to members of that community.

It’s also very important that brands engage with the people in their community. This can be as easy as replying to comments on videos, leaving comments on other videos, or liking and sharing videos.

4. Use a TikTok Pro account

A TikTok Pro account can provide metrics, insights, and analytics that can help gauge video/ad performance and provide audience and content insights.

A TikTok Pro account can provide metrics, insights, and analytics that can help gauge video and ad performance and provide audience and content insights.
TikTok Pro account analytics example. Source.

TikTok Pro accounts can also receive verification TikTok. Having a verified TikTok account lets users know that your account authentically belongs to your brand. It also lets TikTok know that your brand is a prominent, well known name and official business. Verified TikTok accounts can receive increased exposure and trust.

5. Understand the different kinds of ad campaigns available and choose what's best for your business

Brands can create TikTok ads and campaigns in the following ways:

  • Top View Ads are located at the top of a TikTok user’s feed when they open the app. They can be up to 60 seconds long and are skippable.
  • In-Feed Ads are full screen, story-like skippable ads and usually appear in a user’s TikTok For You page.
  • Brand Takeover Ads allow a single brand to have consistent ads across the app for a day. For the day, a brand will have images and videos that will appear like Top View Ads but won’t be skippable. These ads will have internal and external links attached to them so that users can land directly on a business’ landing page.
  • Branded Effects Ads include effects like games, stickers, filters, special effects and even sounds that people can add to their videos. These allow people to engage with an ad through user-generated content
  • Branded Hashtags allow brands to create custom business hashtag challenges.

Understanding the TikTok algorithm helps businesses advertise smarter

Are you intrigued by TikTok ads but unsure about how to get started?

The digital marketing team at Search Discovery is happy to help! We can assist in creating TikTok ad campaigns for your brand that will align with the TikTok algorithms best practices to maximize reach, engagement, and sales. Our knowledge of the algorithm means that we can help your team with both execution and strategy across TikTok Ads. Feel free to reach out to us today to learn more about improving your business’s marketing strategy.

Read more of our recent digital marketing posts:

Contact us today to optimize your TikTok ad performance, drive results, and build the capabilities of your digital marketing program.

Malina Mitchell
Digital Marketing Associate

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