Why Is TikTok’s Algorithm So Good?

A lot of things have changed in two years — prices have surged on everyday goods, online sportsbooks like MyBookie have exploded in popularity, and so has a new social media giant, TikTok. In about two years, TikTok has surpassed Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube in more metrics than one.

A major reason for TikTok’s success is its algorithm. Somehow, someway the app knows your interests better than any other site. The algorithm has the power to suck you into hours of endless watching or explode creators overnight.

But just how does this algorithm work? And why is it so effective? Welp, let’s find out together. Here’s the TikTok algorithm explained:

For You Page

The opening page on TikTok is the For You Page. As the name indicates, it’s incredibly personalized for you. No two users on TikTok will have the same selection of videos on For You.

Every second you spend on TikTok is training its algorithm. All your actions on the site help the algorithm better understand you — what you like and what you don’t like. Here’s the main data signals the algorithm weights for personalizing recommendations:

  • Video likes and shares
  • Accounts followed
  • Comments posted
  • Content created
  • Videos completed
  • Favorited videos

Every social media site does this to an extent. But why is TikTok seemingly so much better at it than Twitter or Instagram? Welp, it comes down to how content appears on the site. When on TikTok, a piece of content takes up the ENTIRE screen. That’s not the case on competitor social media sites. Check your Facebook feed right now from your phone — there’s probably two or three stories on the same screen.

This might seem like a trivial difference but it’s not an algorithm. Since TikTok is so focused on one piece of content, the algorithm knows EXACTLY what you think about it. There’s a little more of a guessing game if we’re using the Facebook example. Say you leave the app (meaning you didn’t like the content), Facebook can’t for sure say which of the two pieces of content had that reaction on you.

Moreover, the strength of this single-content algorithm also helps TikTok evolve. Let’s face it, your hobbies are in flux over time. Maybe you got into working out for a whole month and consumed content about it routinely during that time. If you drop the gym habit (hey, it happens to the best of us) and therefore start disengaging with TikTok content about it, it’ll slowly disappear from the For You Page.

Friends Are Afterthoughts

Once upon a time, social media sites were built with friends and family in mind. Its primary function was to keep in touch with them and serve as an online “social network.” Those days are dead and gone — driven primarily by TikTok.

TikTok is an entertainment company, first and foremost. Unless your friends and family members are entertainers, their content isn’t going to be recommended for you all that much. Certainly not in favor of influencers or brands that are producing well-performing videos.

One thing we forgot to mention about the For You Page — it prioritizes engaging content. So even if you follow someone, they may not end up being displayed on the For You Page if a video posted doesn’t perform well. Brutal, we know, but that’s how much TikTok prioritizes engagement.

How TikTok Understands Content

Alright, we’ve spent this whole article telling you how TikTok understands its user base but that’s only half the equation. The other? Knowing the actual content. For instance, if a video is about sports, how does TikTok know so it can then recommend it to users with a sports interest?

Welp, there’s a few ways. One is the video’s metadata — the user-inputted text. That means the video description and hashtags you use. So if it’s a football video, it would be a smart idea to include the #nfl hashtags, for example.

But even more powerful is TikTok’s auto-transcribe feature. Upload a video with audio and the site uses artificial intelligence to pump out captions with deadly accuracy. Obviously, the words you're actually saying in the video are a big signal to inform TikTok what the video is truly about.

And that’s the bare-bones version of how TikTok’s algorithm has become so insanely good. The way machine learning works is the algorithm is only going to continue to improve the more data it has on you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is special about Tiktok's algorithm?
An interesting feature is that the first page in TikTok is the For You page. As the name suggests, it's incredibly personalized for you. No two TikTok users will have the same selection of For You videos.

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