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Instagram Algorithm – Understanding And Making The Most Of It

July 27, 2020
Instagram

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Instagram Algorithm – Understanding And Making The Most Of It

Marketers and everyday users of Instagram often hear about the Instagram algorithm. We hear that it is what makes your content reach more people. But most people don’t really know how it works. Or how to make the most of the Instagram algorithm.

If you’re curious and want to know how you can use Instagram’s algorithm to increase your reach and following, stick around.

We will discuss the workings of the algorithm and how marketers and individuals alike can make use of it.

Knowing as much about the Instagram algorithm as possible is very important for marketers. 

Seeing as 200 million Instagram users visit at least one business profile daily, you need to get yours in front of those eyes.

Add to that the fact that Instagram’s potential advertising reach is more than 800 million users, and you can see the social media platform’s amazing potential.

What Is The Instagram Algorithm?

Instagram algorithm
The Instagram algorithm is vital to your success on the platform.

In short, it is Instagram’s algorithm that decides which Instagram posts are seen by people whenever they open their Instagram feed.

It is based on machine learning and the way posts are ranked changes quite regularly. 

To use the algorithm to your advantage, it is important to know about the latest changes and how they impact your content.

The most important factor for the Instagram algorithm is always going to be building relationships between users and their audience.

How Does The Instagram Algorithm Work?

Since the reverse-chronological feed has been ended in 2016 after Instagram’s update, the popular app has adopted a different approach. Individual feeds are organised according to the algorithm rules.

Instagram feels that this gives users a much better experience on their platform.

What Influences The Algorithm?

There are several factors that influence the Instagram algorithm and knowing them will give you an advantage.

When you know these factors, you will be able to get your posts on the top of your audience’s feeds more effectively.

The Three Most Important Factors

Important
There are 3 really important factors to remember…

Relationships

The driving force behind Instagram’s algorithm is the desire to improve relationships. It wants people to connect more and in authentic ways.

It’s about more than getting people to keep scrolling. The algorithm pushes to the front posts from accounts has interactions already.

That is why it is so important for brands to have a lot of Instagram engagement with their community and following.

Relationships are improved by tagging people in your posts, exchanging direct messages and leaving comments frequently. Shares, views and likes also indicate good relationships.

Post Times

Posts that are posted recently are more likely to reach the top of users’ feeds. For this reason, it is very important that you share content when your audience is online.

Interests

The Instagram algorithm will show content that is based on or influenced by a user’s interests. When they enjoyed certain content, they’ll see more of it in their feed.

If a user has interacted with verified accounts more, they’ll likely see more content from other verified accounts. 

If they’ve watched many videos, they’ll see video content more often. So, if people interact with your account, they’ll see even more of you. It’s a good cycle that will continue as long as there’s organic interaction.

Other Important Factors

In addition to the three above-mentioned factors, there are a few others that also affect how many people see your content. They’re not as important as the top three but should still be taken into account.

Activity

The Instagram algorithm allows only the best and most popular content that was shared since the last a user opened the app show in their feed. This means that an Instagrammer that doesn’t check their feed frequently might miss your post.

However, almost half of the app’s users check their feed more than once a day.

Following

A user who is following thousands of other accounts might not see your posts all the time. Ideally, you want followers who don’t follow so many people that they can’t keep up with your posts.

Unfortunately, that is not really something you have power over.

Sessions

The time that a user spends on Instagram in one session determines how many posts they see. If they’re spending only five minutes on the app, they’re less likely to see your posts from hours ago.

Tips On Working With The Instagram Algorithm

Instagram
Working with the Instagram algorithm doesn’t need to be complicated.

There are many ways that you can use the algorithm to your benefit. Even if you don’t understand fully how the Instagram algorithm works, you can follow our advice.

By taking our tips to heart, you will be able to share Instagram posts that get a lot of engagement and social media marketing results.

Analytics

It comes as no surprise that by keeping track of your Instagram analytics, you can get a clearer picture of what’s been working in your brand’s favour.

You will learn more about how your audience feels and how they react to specific kinds of posts. On top of that, the analytics data will give a better understanding of how Instagram’s algorithm works.

With this information, you’ll be able to tell which posts are hitting the right spot with your audience and which just don’t ‘wow’ them. The most successful video content can also be identified. 

With business accounts, you are able to access Instagram’s native analytics. It will let you see when your audience is online and what their general demographic and location information is.

Of course, analytics can only do so much. It is up to you as a brand or marketing team to use the data effectively.

Consistency

One of the biggest keys to success is consistency. If you want to get positive attention from the Instagram algorithm, you need to have solid relationships with your audience and followers.

A good way to do that is to share high-quality content regularly. Determining what is consistent for your account is up to your brand.

Before you start sharing content, you need to know how often your audience will want to see new Instagram content. That’s why proper research about your target audience is so important.

Remember that if you start out by posting a certain amount of photos and videos, you’re creating an expectation. Your audience will want to see this amount of content from you regularly now.

Timely Posts

Timely Posts
The timeliness of your posts is important to the algorithm.

In addition to posting content regularly, you need to do so in a timely manner. This can be difficult when you have many tasks to complete.

Because the Instagram algorithm likes to favour the most recent posts, you need to have yours freshly created when your audience is online. 

If you live in a different time zone, it can be tricky. It can also be exhausting to have to make sure that you have quality content ready every day.

We highly recommend that you make use of a scheduling tool to help you out. You can create content ahead and schedule it to be posted at the relevant times.

SocialPlanner is a great scheduling tool that will let you plan your new posts and post them for you to make sure it’s there to be enjoyed by your audience when they’re online.

Relationships

As we’ve mentioned, Instagram is all about organic engagement and real connections. With that said, it is important to build relationships the old-fashioned way.

This means that you should not be taking any shortcuts and putting in the required effort. If you want to see results, you need to work for it, right?

Just don’t expect any ‘Likes’ for your efforts to show. Instagram has stopped allowing likes to be shown on the platform.

As a brand, you should be focused on real connections anyway. Show real affection and be engaging in a warm way.

Here are some tips on how to build relationships:

Comments

Replying to comments as quickly as possible – immediately if possible – is a great way to show you care. If people see that you’re alert and attentive, they’ll start to look up to you. Plus, you will be impressing the person you reply to as well as everyone who sees your reply.

Also, comment on people’s posts. Show your followers that you’re not just about blasting your own content, but theirs as well. Of course, the posts you comment on will be associated with your brand. Keep that in mind to prevent getting linked to ‘the wrong people’.

Questions

It is recommended that you ask your followers questions, but only if you actually care about their answers. Don’t bait people for engagement. The questions you ask should be influenced by how happy you want to make your audience.

Direct Messages

Sending and receiving direct messages is seen by the Instagram algorithm as a way to gauge your relationships with other users. Use DMs to communicate with your followers but don’t be pushy. Abusive and harassing messages are not tolerated.

Don’t Buy Likes Or Followers

Many people suggest that brands buy followers and likes (not the likes so much anymore) when they’re new.

We would advise against this. Instagram’s algorithm (and your real followers) will definitely notice when you’ve bought yourself fake followers.

Reuse Your Top Content

There is nothing wrong with sharing an older post that did well with your audience again. If it did well, it’s because your followers really enjoyed it.

It is likely that since then, you’ve gained new followers who haven’t seen this awesome content on their Instagram feed yet.

By sharing content that you’ve already created, you can save yourself the time needed to create something new.

Instagram marketing is all about being clever with what you give your followers. So don’t just rehash your old content – have a proper strategy for recycling your posts.

Use Visuals

Instagram is a fantastic social media platform for sharing visual content. There’s more to it than sharing an IGTV video or two.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Redesign images, share them as Stories
  • Turn videos into stills or GIFs
  • Use photos from different sources in one post
  • Create a carousel with a bunch of photos
  • Share a #tbt post

Whatever you decide to do, just be as creative as possible with your Instagram account.

Use Hashtags

Hashtags
Hashtags are essential on Instagram.

Since hashtags are like the food of Instagram, you need to use them correctly. These little guys get your content in front of your followers quite effectively.

When you use hashtags and make the most of them, the Instagram algorithm will notice the engagement and boost your post. This creates a circle where you get even more attention and the algorithm gets your new posts in front of even more people.

However, you should never misuse hashtags as that can get you on the wrong side of the algorithm.

Only use hashtags that are relevant to your industry and brand and you’ll be fine.

Reward Followers’ Loyalty

If you have many followers who are freely promoting your content with UGC (user-generated content), you should thank them for the free publicity.

UGC refers to posts by pleased customers after they’ve used your product or service. This is a great boost in trust as your audience will see how satisfied customers are.

You can share their positive experiences by sharing their posts. Keep an eye on your follower’s Instagram feed and do some social listening to know when your brand is being talked about.

Rewarding this loyalty can come in many forms – sharing their posts and giving them shout outs is usually enough.

You can even send them DMs if you want to but make sure to not go too far. Don’t make it look like you’re paying for positive reviews and comments.

If you have ambassadors for your brand, make it clear what their relationship to you is. For more information about UGC, take a look at our article all about user generated content!

Also, consider having contests to gain some valuable UGC and rewarding winners with real prizes.

But resist sharing all the UGC you can find – only use the best and highest-quality content.

By having this close relationship with your followers, you will show Instagram’s algorithm that you’re having the connections that are so important for the popular social media platform.

Work With Other Users

Work with others on Instagram
Working with other Instagram users is always a good idea.

Working with other Instagram users can be very beneficial for your brand. You can keep an eye on other accounts you follow to find users who are like-minded.

If you’re not following people in your industry, you should. It looks good and helps you stay up to date with what’s going on in your niche.

You can collaborate with these users and get a nice boost from the Instagram algorithm. When you work with influencers, you can get exposed to a wider audience. This could result in a boost from the algorithm as well as increase your sales. If you want to know more influencers, check out this influencer marketing guide.

Instagram Features

You want to use all the tools that Instagram gives you since the Instagram algorithm works for those who really engage on the social media platform.

Comments are a good example of the features that help you get on the good side of the new and ever-updated Instagram algorithm. When you can, leave nice replies to comments. When there’s not much to say, show some love by liking the comments.

Keeping track of comments can be difficult, so use your settings to create focused notifications.

To do that, head to the ‘Navigation’ option in your settings and turn all ‘off’ except for the ‘Comments’.

This way, you can better keep track of comments and not have them be drowned by other notifications.

With new features like the Pages inbox, you can respond to DMs from Messenger as well as Instagram. That makes it easier to stay in contact with your followers and improve your engagement.

We recommend that you keep an eye on any new features that might help you by checking out the official Instagram blog regularly.

Don’t Use Fake Accounts

If you’ve been considering using fake accounts to create some interactions and fool Instagram’s algorithm, think again.

The social media platform has updated how it looks at engagement. That means using bots to comment and like your posts won’t do you any good.

Avoid using any fake accounts will not get you a boost or positive attention from Instagram’s algorithm.

Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories can be a visual treat as seen here.

Thanks to the Instagram update from not so long ago, Instagram Stories are a great tool to get organic engagement. You can use this cool feature to create interesting content that will get a lot of positive attention.

You can actually use Instagram Stories to ‘outsmart’ Instagram’s algorithm a little bit. The feature has become one of the best ways to drive engagement on your Instagram account. With it, you can improve traffic and increase brand awareness like no other feature allows.

As long as you make sure that you tap into the potential of all the Instagram Stories features, you’ll be winning all the way.

There are stickers, locations, and GIFs that will increase the attractiveness of your Stories.

To outsmart the algorithm, you should tap into the engagement opportunities. This includes new features such as polls and interactive stickers. You can expect new features quite regularly as there seems to be a fresh one or two every other week.

Another cool way to use Stories to be smarter than Instagram’s algorithm is to ask your followers to DM you for a link to a product or service that is rather exclusive.

This way, you drive people to your DMs, which looks good to the algorithm. It’s a nice way to engage with your followers and improve your relationships. This, in turn, helps you to show up on their Instagram feeds.

Video content is always a winner on social media and Instagram is no different. Users love videos and since Instagram wants to give people what they want, you should share videos. Instagram stories are a great place for this kind of content.

Instagram Stories Popularity
Instagram Stories’ popularity has been growing immensely over the years. (Source: Jumper Media)

Maintain Your Brand Aesthetic

People don’t like change and are inherently fond of things that stay the same. With that in mind, you need to have a brand aesthetic that won’t change with every other Instagram post.

Stick to a specific look and feel and when your new posts show up in users’ feeds, they’ll recognise it immediately.

When you have a consistent aesthetic, you’re likely to see better brand awareness as well as loyalty.

People need to know it’s your content they’re seeing even before they see your name on their screen.

Use Links

There is another way to give in to what Instagram wants and win over Instagram’s algorithm at the same time.

You can add links to your Stories – the first time that’s possible in new posts. For now, it’s only available to those who use Instagram Business and have more than 10 000 followers.

If you’re lucky enough to tick these boxes, make the most of this feature.

Simply swipe up in your Stories to get started on adding links to your new posts. The algorithm will notice and reward you for doing so.

Add Locations 

The Instagram algorithm likes when you add locations
Adding locations to your posts is a great marketing strategy. (Source: Blogging Wizard)

Another cool feature that will help you score brownie points with Instagram’s algorithm is the ability to add location stickers to your Stories.

As you can see, Instagram Stories offer a wealth of opportunities for you and your brand.

By adding your location, users can find your Stories when they search for a location. You have the chance to get your account introduced to many, many more eyes.

To add a location, you simply have to click on the location sticker and type in the relevant information and it will show up in any Instagram search that includes your location.

Instagram Stories Ads

Instagram Stories Ads
Instagram Stories allows users to be very creative. (Source: Bloggingwizard)

Most Instagram marketing strategies will include ads at some point or another. Fortunately, you can use them in your Stories.

Yet another great way to reach new audiences!

You can share videos or photos when creating your ads. Just make sure that it is captivating right from the start. Instagram users like to speed through content and you need to grab their attention right at the start.

How The Algorithm Treats Instagram’s Features

The algorithm deals with Instagram’s various features in unique ways. To make the most of the algorithm, you need to know how each feature is treated.

IGTV

IGTV may still be a relatively new feature but it has the same criteria as posts. You can approach IGTV the same as you would posts.

There are three categories under which users can find videos – ‘Popular’, ‘For You’ and ‘Following’. 

You’ll see content based on how you use Instagram. The ‘For You’ category is all about content that Instagram thinks you will like. Under ‘Following’, you will find content from the users you’re following and the ‘Popular’ category will show you whatever is currently trending on IGTV.

To make sure that your content does well on IGTV, you can share 1-minute previews of your content on your Instagram feed. This will help more people see what you’ve got to entertain them with.

Explore Page

Instagram’s Explore Page has its own algorithm that determines how it is handled. Instagram works hard to make sure that every user’s page is unique and caters to their likes.

The algorithm looks at what users post, what they comment on, and what accounts they follow to personalise their Explore Page. 

Getting your content on more users’ Explore Pages is a great way to improve brand awareness. Use the right hashtags and follow our advice and you’ll reach more users.

Instagram Stories

For the most part, users see the Instagram Stories from the accounts they’re most interactive with first. So your followers are likely to see your Stories in their feed, as long as there is a real relationship between you.

Engage with your followers to make sure that they’ll see your Stories before they see the Stories by your competition.

Timeliness is also important so make sure you post regularly and when your audience is active.

Make sure that you’re consistent in sharing high-quality and entertaining Stories to keep the algorithm on your side.

If you post Stories more often, you’ll also increase your chances of being at the top of your followers’ feeds.

Misconceptions About Instagram

There are many myths and widely believed rumours out there about Instagram. We’ll briefly look at two of them and set the record straight.

Comments

It is believed by many that the Instagram algorithm doesn’t count comments that are less than three words long.

That’s false. All comments are taken into account by the algorithm, even if they’re nothing more than emojis.

Comments are very important for the algorithm as it serves as an indicator of engagement with content. See why it’s a good idea to reply to comments?

Ranking

Another rumour that is widely taken as the truth is that the first 30 minutes after a recent post is the ‘make or break’ period for engagement.

This is also not true – the algorithm doesn’t care about that first half an hour. It looks at the bigger picture.

Still, it’s a good idea to post when your audience is around so your fresh content reaches users’ feeds when they’re most likely to see it.

This point proves that a content calendar really will help your case.

Instagram FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions about Instagram

Since we’re discussing how you can make the most of the Instagram algorithm, it may be a good idea to discuss the platform as a whole.

Here, we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions so you can be armed with as much knowledge as possible. When you are, your marketing strategy is much more likely to succeed.

How Many Likes Should You Get with 1000 Followers?

Many new users who finally reached that 1000 followers benchmark will wonder how many likes on their posts this will earn them.

That is actually not relevant anymore as likes are now hidden. You should be focusing on your engagement and relationships more than on likes anyway.

You know by now that the Instagram algorithm works differently after the most recent updates. The updated Instagram is not about likes anymore.

Here’s a graph showing a typical likes-to-followers ratio:

Instagram Likes
Likes to followers benchmark. (Source: influencerdb.com)

How Many Times a Week Should I Post on Instagram?

This is actually a difficult question to answer because it depends on your brand, as we mentioned earlier in the guide.

You could post anything between seven posts a week to as many as 30 posts.  Posting times will also be influenced by your audience.

There is a way to determine the best posting frequency for your brand though. It’s all about you and your followers.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and do testing.

You can try something like posting once every day but skipping a day. On that day, you post in the morning and then later at night. Look at your analytics and see how your recent posts performed.

Now, you’ll be able to have a better idea of what kind of post frequency works best for your account.

P.S: When you’re checking your analytics, you can also see which of the accounts you follow are engaging with you the most.

For a business account, it is really important to know who is mentioning you and your brand. When you are creating content, you need to know if the right people are seeing it and what they’re saying as a result.

You can use analytics to know more about this and learn from the data. There are also many tools out there, such as Later’s Instagram Analytics.

If you don’t have access to those tools, you can search for your business using a hashtag. Many people mention brands and people with hashtags instead of the @ function.

Can You Tell Who Looks at Your Instagram?

Although it would have been a neat trick, Instagram does not let users see who has viewed their profile.

There is just no telling who has viewed your account unless they’ve commented or shared one of your posts.

Why Is My Instagram Reach so Low?

Reach and engagement can fluctuate a lot on Instagram and part of the reason is the changing algorithm.

It is not that easy to know why this happens, sometimes you have a bad day and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Instagram is almost overloaded with content so it’s only natural that people will feel some days that they don’t want to see what’s on offer from you.

However, you can keep things interesting and entertaining to make sure your content is something users will want to see all the time.

There are a few things you can do to make sure that your reach is always as high as possible. The quality of your content is the first thing to mention – everyone enjoys high-quality content more than something that was just slapped together for the sake of sharing Instagram posts.

Quantity is important too, but that will depend on your account and brand, as mentioned earlier.

Remember to not spam your content with hashtags. They’re cool to use but do so in moderation.

How Many Followers Do You Need to Get Verified on Instagram?

Although many social media platforms want you to reach a certain amount of followers before you’re verified, that’s not the case with Instagram.

It doesn’t matter how many people are following your account – the algorithm looks at the bigger picture, remember?

As long as you’ve got authentic engagement and quality content showing up on users’ Instagram feed, you’re well on your way to getting verified.

You can request verification if you feel that your account will meet the required standards.

How Does Instagram Work?

This is a question that requires a really focused and in-depth answer. To make the most of Instagram and its algorithm, you need to know how the platform works.

We will briefly discuss all the important points so you can get started on creating an awesome account that will master the algorithm.

First Step – Creating An Account

Obviously, the first step is to create a new Instagram account. You can sign up, choose a password, and select your profile picture. Then, you will fill out your bio and add some colour to your account.

After creating your account, you should download the app so you can easily access it while you’re on the move.

The desktop site is rather limited in what you can do on it.

Following

We suggest that as a business, you follow other accounts in your industry. We don’t mean you should follow your competition. Instead, find the industry leaders and influencers and follow them.

You’ll stay in the loop if you follow the right people. You can set your account to private but that’s not suggested for brands. You want to be open and transparent and show that you’re not hiding anything from your audience.

Sharing Posts

Now that you’ve created your account, you should start sharing content. Of course, you need to have a plan to work with.

We suggest that you have a strategy worked out before you start sharing posts and Stories.

When you’re ready to share a post, tap on the ‘Plus’ icon that is found in the middle of your bottom toolbar. You can choose between sharing a new video or photo or uploading one from your gallery.

You can apply some filters if you want to. Then, hit ‘Share’ and your content is let loose to take over the world!

Bonus Tips On Nailing The Instagram Algorithm

Bonus
Bonus Tips!

You now have an answer for ‘what is Instagram?’, how to be a pro on the platform and how the Instagram algorithm works to determine the success of your content.

You also know why posting times matter and what to do with hashtags.

However, if you’re as eager as we are to create awesome content, more tips are always welcome. 

So, here are some bonus tips on how to use the algorithm to help you reach a wider audience.

Audience Interactions

Since the Instagram algorithm loves interactions so much, you should encourage it as much as you can. You should be working hard to get organic interactions from your following.

Give your audience posts that make them want to talk to you or comment on a post. Ask intriguing questions and have interesting polls.

Let your followers vote and show them the results. For example, if you’re a design company and you asked which designs your followers like, show them how you used their answers to adjust your design choices.

Show your followers that their opinions and comments matter to you. Because they do, right? Business accounts can greatly benefit from their audience’s input into industry-related matters.

Captions

Many brands overlook the usefulness of a really good caption. Often, they get blinded by the many hashtags they can choose from. Don’t be one of those brands.

An engaging caption can take posts from mediocre to something that catches attention and keeps it.

You can drive conversations with a good caption and that will improve your relationships. This will make you look better to the algorithm – it’s a win-win situation.

Use good call to actions in your captions to get people to react to them. Ask your followers to share their thoughts and feelings. Get them to share their opinions on thought-provoking matters that are related to your industry. Make them think. Make them feel.

Cross-Promotion

To get maximum engagement from your followers and boost your Instagram algorithm, consider cross-promoting your content.

Instagram grows bigger every day and with that grows the channels that allow you to share your content.

Work cross-posting into your marketing strategy to increase your ranking.

Photo Quality

When the internet was still young, people didn’t mind low-quality photos, which became known as ‘potato quality photos’.

But, since technology allows us to capture stunning high-quality images and share them on the internet, the standard has gone up.

Instagram has been an image-sharing platform from the start and its users will not accept images that aren’t of the best quality.

To improve your relationship with Instagram’s algorithm and your audience, always give them photos that are excellent quality and easy on the eye.

Share photos that are striking, colourful, and bold. Breathtaking landscapes and photos of beautiful food always do well.

Even a brand that is nestled in the most ‘boring’ industry can share amazing photos every now and then. If you’re feeling uninspired or don’t have the right tools, check out this guide for tools and apps that will help you create professional images.

Videos

Any social media marketer will know that video content is a favourite with users, regardless of the platform that they’re shared on.

Although Instagram never outright said that video is preferred over photos, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know videos are more entertaining than photos.

There really isn’t a better way to grab attention than with a cool and interesting video. Thanks to features like IGTV, Instagram users can share videos that will captivate followers with more ease.

Your video content doesn’t have to be good enough to compete with Hollywood productions to be successful.

It should be good quality but you don’t have to spend your entire marketing budget on videos that will please your followers and the Instagram algorithm.

Go Live

Although Live video doesn’t necessarily get any favour from Instagram’s algorithm, what your followers do when you go live does have an impact.

When you go Live, your followers will be notified and they’ll get curious. With Instagram Live, you’re put in the front and centre of your followers’ Instagram feeds.

Going Live is a great way to give your audience a look at the people behind the brand. This will improve your relationship with them.

You don’t have to create live video content every day, but you should try to do it pretty often.

Contests

Giveaways and contests are a fantastic way to get a lot of attention and engagement. People will share your posts in the hopes of winning your prizes.

Make sure that you make it worth their time by giving them awesome stuff that they can win with as little as possible effort.

Use relevant and competition-specific hashtags and get your contests in front of a wider audience. This will definitely help you ‘get in good’ with the Instagram algorithm.

Conclusion

Although there is a lot more we can discuss about the Instagram algorithm, you now have enough info to get you on the right track. Follow our advice and use our tips and you’ll notice that you’re getting more positive attention from the algorithm. Be creative, use good images and interesting videos and your audience will love you for it. Treat the feed of your loyal follower with posts that beg for engagement and Instagram’s algorithm will love you too.

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