Last Updated: June 7, 2024

The TikTok Algorithm Explained (And How You Can Exploit It)

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    Back in 2021, Wall Street Journal conducted an investigation into TikTok’s highly secretive yet scaringly accurate algorithm. It found that in less than two hours of a user joining TikTok, the app could have their heart’s deepest desires figured out. 

    With this information, TikTok would create an extremely personalized string of recommendations for the user based on its algorithm. What’s this algorithm? How does it work? 

    In this article, you’ll find all you ever wanted to know about the TikTok algorithm. In addition, you’ll discover how you can exploit the algorithm to rise to TikTok stardom. Let’s get to it.

    What Is the TikTok Algorithm?

    The TikTok algorithm is a set of steps that TikTok follows to analyze and predict what videos will most interest a particular user. Based on this analysis, TikTok curates a never-ending list of videos to recommend to the user. As they interact with these videos (through watching, liking, and sharing the videos, or expressing their dislike for the topic, hashtag, or creator behind the videos), TikTok learns more about which videos will keep the user most glued to their screen. Then, it adapts its recommendations to ensure that it keeps the user on the app for as long as possible.

    How Does the TikTok Algorithm Work?

    In its official newsroom, TikTok discloses the factors that its algorithm mostly considers when recommending videos. Some of these factors are:

    • Likes and Shares: Which videos have you liked or shared? What topics were the videos about? 
    • Follows: Which creators do you follow? What niches or subcultures are these creators into?
    • Comments: If you commented on a video or two, TikTok presumes that you must be happily obsessed with those kinds of videos and recommends more of them to you.
    • Video Information: Hashtags, effects, sound tracks, captions, etc., help TikTok’s algorithm to know what a video is about, and if you’ve interacted with videos in such niches in the past, TikTok figures that you won’t mind doing it again. 
    • Country and Language: This data serves as the basis for initial video recommendations. Subsequently showing interest in foreign videos discourages the TikTok algorithm from considering this data when suggesting videos to you in the future. ‘

    That’s the much TikTok said. And as you may have observed, it’s not a sufficient explanation of how the TikTok algorithm works. Some independent researchers felt just the same way you did and experimented with the TikTok algorithm using bot and real TikTok accounts in 2021 and 2023. 

    The 2021 experiment was done by the Wall Street Journal, using 100 bot accounts which were programmed to watch specific types of videos for longer periods. As the bot hovered on a video, TikTok took notes. Every 15 videos or so later, TikTok would recommend a similar video. 

    All this while, TikTok was simply trying to detect which types of videos were most likely to make the bot stop scrolling and watch. The results of this research tell us that the watch time (that is, how long you spend watching a video) influences what videos the TikTok algorithm displays on your FYP. This is why TikTok appears to be so good at showing you what you really want to see. 

    In 2024, a small study revealed that only 30% to 50% of video recommendations on a user’s FYP are based on the videos that the user had watched. In other news, about 50% to 70% of videos that TikTok’s algorithm recommends are randomly selected. 

    While it’s not safe to generalize the conclusions deduced from these experiments because of the small amount of data sampled in the studies, the results give you a much clearer idea of how the TikTok algorithm works. With this knowledge, you can better apply the strategies for exploiting the TikTok algorithm.

    How to Exploit TikTok's Algorithm

    Below, you’ll discover five ways to use the workings of the TikTok algorithm to your advantage.

    #1 Find Your Subculture

    In TikTok terms, a niche is called a subculture. To get the TikTok algorithm on your side, pick a subculture on TikTok that you want to join. Here’s a list of some ideas to get you started,

    • Alt TikTok
    • Cottagecore
    • Clean Tok
    • BookTok
    • StudyTok
    • ArtTok
    • WitchTok
    • FitnessTok
    • FashionTok
    • FoodieTok
    • ParentTok
    • TechTok
    • ComedyTok
    • DanceTok
    • BeautyTok
    • PetTok
    • GamerTok
    • DIYTok
    • TravelTok
    • EduTok
    • MusicTok
    • ThriftingTok
    • EcoTok
    • MemeTok
    • Mental Health Tok
    • SpiritualTok
    • HistoryTok
    • Language Learning Tok
    • VintageTok

    When you pick a subculture, add hashtags related to that subculture in your TikTok captions. A user who has shown interest in your subculture will likely find your TikTok video on their FYP.

    #2 Get to the Point Early

    Based on previous TikTok research and Statistics, TikTok recommends that it’s best to reveal the key message of your TikTok video within the first three seconds of the video. The research showed that 63% of TikTok videos with the highest click-through rates hit the nail on the head three seconds in.

    Although these figures are most helpful for brands running ads on TikTok, they could also apply to TikTok creators who’re just posting content for non-commercial purposes.

    The fact that TikTok has increased the maximum video length to ten minutes doesn’t mean that your audience is automatically interested in watching videos that drag on and on. Actually, the length increase directly counters the discoveries of TikTok in 2021. That year, TikTok learned that anything longer than 60 seconds tended to stress out TikTok users.

    Users claimed that they had difficulty concentrating on videos for long periods. If you’re aiming to win over an audience base that has such a short attention span, you better seize the opening minutes to grab their attention.

    For instance, in this video, the creator starts with “Taking attendance in 2024 be like…” This hook immediately makes the audience want to know how taking attendance in 2024 works.

    Also, in this ad by @alexandrialens, the creator starts the video with the clip screenshotted below.

    Even if you stumble on this video while your phone is muted, you’ll wonder what a young girl dressed as Snow White is doing in front of a “mirror” from which the wicked queen is glaring at her.

    One other popular method that TikTokers use to maximize the first three seconds of their videos is to show the result right before the process. For example, a video about how to make chicken filet may start with a short clip of mouthwatering chicken filet.

    #3 Interact with Other TikTokers

    Interacting with other TikTokers extends beyond responding to comments on your videos. When you view videos made by fellow creators, drop some comments or likes.

    Follow creators whose content is similar to yours. Doing this increases the probability that TikTok will include your videos in the pool of videos it recommends to TikTokers who are ardent fans of the accounts you’ve followed.

    Came across a hilarious or noteworthy video that you couldn’t get your mind off? Create a duet with the video, recording your reaction to it. On Gordon Ramsay’s TikTok channel, for example, he posts a reaction to a cooking video that’s been created by another TikToker.

    Actively interacting with TikTok accounts boosts your chances of being favored by the TikTok algorithm.

    #4 Follow TikTok Best SEO Practices

    a. Optimize Your TikTok Profile

    The first best TikTok SEO practice that you should’ve gotten right is to optimize your profile with the keywords that you want to rank higher for on TikTok. Given the informal, personalized atmosphere of TikTok, it’s safe to use a close-up, brightly-lit selfie that tells the user the most important thing about your account that you want them to know. For instance, @tidycademypro on TikTok usually posts faceless videos, but their profile pic is a selfie of themselves holding beauty products. This instantly makes someone who visits their account feel more connected to it. 

    Regarding your username, try to tweak it to reflect the general topic that your account focuses on. In the CleanTok subculture, one TikToker’s username is literally @momthatlovestoclean! This choice of username may appear too generic, but it helps the TikToker’s account get noticed fast by users who love the CleanTok subculture. Also, add relevant keywords in your bio.

    b. Optimize Your Captions for TikTok SEO

    Please optimize your captions. According to the Senior Vice-president of Google’s Knowledge & Information, about 40% of younger TikTokers rely on TikTok for searching for information.

    When a TikToker searches for a keyword or keyphrase on TikTok, TikTok “reads” the text in video captions. It first recommends the videos with captions containing the keyword to the user. 

    These videos may have a moderate number of likes and comments at first. But as they persist to rank high among the TikTok search results, the TikTok algorithm gives them more credit and pushes them out there. 

    TikTok has upped the character limit for captions to over 4,000 characters. However, this increase doesn’t apply to all TikTok accounts. You may find the character limit for your TikTok captions is still 150 or 500 characters. If your limit is on the lower end, it means that you need to manage the few characters you have to squeeze in the TikTok keywords you want to rank for in a creative way.

    c. Optimize Your Subtitles for TikTok SEO

    Another way through which TikTok picks up on keywords is by reading the subtitles in videos. These subtitles help TikTok’s algorithm to recommend it to relevant audiences. For instance, if your video is about cheap DIY home decor ideas, use that exact phrase in the subtitles. Seeing “DIY home decor ideas” in the subtitles will make TikTok recommend the video to users who’ve shown interest in DIY home decor. Including keywords in your video’s subtitles also increases the chances of TikTok indexing that video under those keywords. This is because since subtitles are text-based, they’re much easier for TikTok to parse or understand. Besides, subtitles make a video more accessible to TikTokers with impaired hearing. Therefore, adding subtitles to a TikTok video will keep the user immersed in it from start to finish. It also makes them more willing to interact with the video, thus potentially increasing your TikTok account’s overall engagement rate. This signals to the TikTok algorithm that your account must be offering something valuable. When TikTok thinks that your content is valuable, it’s inspired to drive more traffic to your account. Worried about how to manually add subtitles to your TikTok videos? Since there are now plenty of AI subtitle generators online, like Clipchamp and Flixier, you don’t have to manually add subtitles to your videos anymore.

    #5 Jump on Trends

    Customize TikTok trends to match the kind of content you usually post. Users who’ll otherwise not care about your TikTok content will want to watch the video of you hopping on the trend. 

    There are several ways to join TikTok trends. You may try out trending filters, effects, soundtracks, or scenes. Whatever you do, ensure that you join a trend you’re interested in as early as possible. 

    How do you find TikTok trends? Watch videos that show up on your FYP, and keep watching. This answer appears ridiculous, but it’s honestly the only one. Searching for trending hashtags through the Discover tab may not help because many of the search results may not be recent.

    #6 Go LIVE on TikTok

    TikTok users trust creators and brands that frequently go LIVE. There’s data to support this claim. In 2021, Ipsos studied how TikTokers interacted with live streams. It found that out of every three TikTok users, one loved to form meaningful connections with brands through their live streams. 

    In addition, Ipso discovered that TikTok users liked all types of TikTok LIVEs, including how-to tutorials, product launches, product reviews, Q&A sessions, product sales, and live streamed events. TikTok has also confirmed that half of TikTok users have bought a product or service that was advertised during a TikTok LIVE. 

    By frequently hosting TikTok LIVE sessions where you engage in specific activities, you increase your authenticity in the eyes of your audience. Interacting with those commenting during your TikTok LIVE sessions further enhances this authenticity.

    As a result, you are more likely to get noticed by TikTok’s algorithm. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even go viral.


    There’s more to TikTok than a series of dancing videos and funny creators going viral. Behind it all, the TikTok algorithm works day and night to recommend videos for users to watch on their FYP.

    In making these recommendations, the algorithm considers likes, shares, comments, the subculture of the video, and other information about the video. 

    To succeed on TikTok, find your subculture, get to the point early in your videos, and jump on trends when you can. Don’t forget to go LIVE regularly too.

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