How Do The TripAdvisor Algorithm Changes Affect Hoteliers?
Founded as a modest startup above a pizza shop in Massachusetts in 2000, TripAdvisor, today is one of the biggest review platforms with more than 660 million reviews for not only hotels&restaurants, but also gas stations , health centers, bars and even fictional places like Hotel Transylvania  or Grand Budapest Hotel  from Wes Anderson’s movie with the same name.
Since 2000 TripAdvisor is making algorithm changes to keep its leading position. Since 2016 TripAdvisor implemented some additional checks and changes to prevent fraud. But two fake review scandals have shown that these changes were not enough.
In 2017 Oobah Butler from VICE has created “The Shed” and pushed it up to top of London restaurants completely using fake accounts  and during 2018 World Cup more than 1500 reviews were deleted and 250+ establishments were flagged as “under review” in Russia because of fake reviews . After these, TripAdvisor made even more changes and implemented additional fraud checks in 2018 May.
TripAdvisor, being a review-only platform since its inception, implemented a radical change in 2017 and adopted the “holiday review+sales” concept like Expedia And Booking. After this “review+sales” change, TripAdvisor has announced the new “Best Value” sorting option, which is used as default sorting instead of the good old “Popularity Ranking” which reflects the effects of a more sales oriented approach on TripAdvisor’s part.
After the above TripAdvisor has made another radical change in November and changed its UI to reflect the changes in the user habits of the new age. With its new UI, TripAdvisor now is stepping in the direction of becoming a platform for sharing your travel experiences instead of a travel review site. It now even features the “timeline” feature that most of us are used to seeing in other social media platforms, trying to prvide you the content that you may most be interested in.
So we, at Webius Digital, tried to provide you the most important changes the hoteliers would like to learn about.
What Is TripAdvisor Popularity Index?
TripAdvisor’s “Traveller Ranked” sorting is based on a proprietary algorithm called “Popularity Index“. To understand which factors affect this rating it is important to review the changes to this algorithm which have become much frequent since 2016.
The review quality can be interpreted in two ways. First is how much the review is useful for other readers. According to TripAdvisor these are the important criteria and the guidelines for the reviews: 
- Review should not include profanity, vulgarity, sexually explicit content, prejudiced language, threats, or personal insults.
- Review should not be biased and not include personal opinions about politics, ethics, religion or wider social issues.
- It should not be a repeated comment about the same establishment.
- Review must be original, it must not have been posted on another review or travel site beforehand
- It should only include first-hand experiences and not hearsay or second-hand information.
- Review must contain current information and be relevant and useful for the other readers.
- Review must not contain links or content solely included for promotional purposes.
Here is an example of an improper review which has a very low chance of being published:
“This year just like the years before Hotel X staff and management made sure that we have a wonderful holiday. See you again next year.”
The above review could have a much higher chance to get published if it was worded like below:
“Right from the start of our holiday on 12nd of July every single staff of the hotel treated us very well. We especially loved the vegetable dishes at the main “Magnolia” restaurant and the cocktails at the beach bar. Around the hotel there are plenty of shops that sell souvenirs and apparel. The beach is wide but the sea is a bit rough, we really would like to spend our time again at this hotel next year.”
The second part of the review quality is the users’s activity on the TripAdvisor site after the review. If you wish that a guest review helps your hotel ranking the most, you should be aware that the reviewer’s activity is tracked by TripAdvisor.
That is, if you have a guest who did not have a TripAdvisor acount before and has written a review for your hotel as his/her first review, that review may not be much helpful for your popularity ranking if the review does not receive any “likes” from other readers or the reivewer does not open the follow-up emails about the review sent from TripAdvisor and take the requested actions.
Recent reviews are more valuable than older reviews. They give a more accurate representation of the current experience at the business. This means reviews that are older will not count as much towards a business’s ranking as a review written more recently. Athough recency is an important factor in popularity index algorithm there has been some algorithm changes about the effect of review recency because of the “fast riser” problem. Some establishments can climb the popularity ranking very fast on relatively few 5-bubble reviews. Over time, these new establishments would receive more reviews and settle into more stable & accurate rankings. Unfortunately, in this period, consumers may not see the correct rankings for the “fast-rising” destination.
Changes In The Popularity Index Algorithm Since 2016
Because the algorithm used in the calculation of Popularity Index is proprietary, it has been the target of establishments that wish to climb the rankings as fast as possible. To be able to counter the efforts against circumventing the checks implemented in the calculation method and prevent fraud, TripAdvisor has been implementing many changes to the algorithm especially since 2016.
Fast-Riser Implementations In 2016 And 2018
Before 2016 establishments were able to climb the popularity ranking very fast on relatively few 5-bubble reviews before settling into more stable & accurate rankings over time. To fix this problem, TripAdvisor tweaked the Popularity Ranking algorithm to value the quantity and consistency of reviews more significantly than they did in the past so establishments with consistent good reviews would still be ranked above the newcomers , reducing this fast-riser behavior and creating a more accurate overall ranking for travelers. This algorithm change also prevents some establishments skyrocketing to top of rankings using fake reviews in a very short period of time.
Unfortunately an important disadvantage of this system is that it does not favor the seasonal hotels which are only open for 6-7 months a year. The “consistency” addition to the algorithm now favors hotels that are open all year long instead of the seasonal ones. This would mean if your hotel is closed for the winter season, it may take much longer for your hotel to climb the rankings in the 2-3 month period into the peak season if you have not received any reviews during the winter.
If your hotel is a seasonal one, the easiest way to alleviate this problem is to use review collection surveys during the winter period. This way you can still continue to receive reviews about your establishment even when it is closed.
The important point is to collect email addresses of your guests with their consent so you can use a survey solution like ReviewPro GSS which has a TripAdvisor, Google and HolidayCheck integration for review collection. Using a survey software like ReviewPro GSS would boost your hotel review volume on TripAdvisor by embedding a review collection widget into the surveys you send to your guests.
As an example of this new “consistency” bias of the Popularity Algorithm, we have listed 2 hotels from Antalya region with relatively similar number of reviews and ranking. The first hotel is listed as nr.3 in Traveller Rank while featuring 194 reviews in the period between January 1st and October 12nd. The second hotel is listed as nr. 15 in Traveller Rank while receiving 239 reviews and has a similar GRI rating*.
The main difference between these 2 hotels is “consistency” as you can see that the second hotel (seasonal) did not receive any reviews during the winter season while the first hotel continued receiving reviews in the winter season as it was open all year long. (*GRI=Global Review Index is a proprietary algorithm by ReviewPro which is used by thousands of hotels worldwide as a benchmark for reputation management efforts )
Figure-1: The hotel which is open all year long, receiving reviews continuously.
Figure-2: The seasonal hotel with no reviews in the off-season.
The 2017 “Best Value” Ranking Changes
In 2016 TripAdvisor has published a survey on its own TripBarometer site, asking “What is the most important influence on your booking decisions?” and received an overwhelming 93% of “Price” as the answer. Heeding the travelers’ wishes in 2017 TripAdvisor introduced the “Best Value” ranking which may be the most important and distruptive change it has implemented for years.
TripAdvisor, which had been a review-only travel site since its inception, has transformed into a platform for travel planning and booking similar to Expedia and Booking. Furthermore, this new “Best Value” ranking became the default ranking on destination searches, making it even more important than the 15 year old “Traveler Ranking”.
The Traveler Ranking was easy to comrehend, because it only relied on input from traveler reviews but Best Value ranking is calculated with additional information combined with Popularity Ranking of the hotel. According to TripAdvisor  , the Best Value ranking is based on a combination of proprietary factors, including :
- Traveler ratings
- Hotel rates
- Booking popularity
We know about the traveler ranking so let’s review the other criteria one by one:
Hotel rates: Hotel rates is the biggest factor that separates the Best Value ranking as it factors in your hotel’s availability and room price between the selected travel dates. If you don’t have an available room listed on TripAdvisor or any of the online channels listed there, your hotel will disappear from this ranking completely! Which means you must make sure that you always have an available room for any of the online platforms listed on the TripAdvisor if you want your hotel to appear on the search results.
This means even if you are ranked nr.1 in Traveler Ranking you may disappear on searches by default if you don’t have a room available. This makes it very important that you always have an online room available in at least one of the leading online hotel booking platforms.
Reservation Popularity: TripAdvisor is considering your online sales and these sales over the TripAdvisor platfom now affect your Best Value ranking.
Location: Destination based searches with Best Value ranking seem to be more dependent on the Location score of your establishment now. This may partly result from the fact that Location is relatively not a subjective (if location is good, it is good, there is little room for personal interpretation) thus a reliable score.
In this new ranking system, you must still receive good rankings from travelers but also have available rooms and comparable rates. It also helps very much that people book your rooms through TripAdvisor.
What Other Algorithm Changes Occured In 2018?
The above Best Value ranking update changed a lot of things in TripAdvisor, but also other changes were in line. In 2018 TripAdvisor created a new format to present the accommodation options available in chosen destinations, combining Hotels, Inns and Speciality Lodgings, into a single “Places to Stay” view. This would mean that all types of properties, large or small, would have to strive for top spots regardless of their size. If you have a resort hotel with 300 rooms or a boutique hotel with 10, you will now have equal chance of getting the coveted top spot, giving smaller establishments a chance to compete with “bigger boys” if they keep their service and guest satisfaction levels at comparable levels.
To alleviate the pain stemming from this change TripAdvisor provides some additional badges like “Best Seller” and also category based top spots, which means even if you are ranked 2nd in total you will still have the distinction of being “1st in Hotels” ranking.
What About The November 2018 UI Changes?
Let’s accept the fact that Millenials are born into very different world then we have known before. Even the famous real estate based Monopoly game with is “for Millenials” version is focusing on experiences like guacamole and “island holiday” instead of collecting rents from apartments. The “experience” is taking over the “product” in today’s world.
TripAdvisor could not resist to this trend and on November 13th, released its new UI and with its much touted transformation into a social travel network. At the heart of site is the new “travel feed”, which is very reminiscent of Facebook news feed. Again just like other social media platforms, you can find some interesting people to follow, especially bloggers and so-called influencers, to include them in your favorites so you can see their preferences and favorite destinations.
As TripAdvisor spokeswoman Susanne Nguyen states: “So far, there is no social network dedicated exclusively to travel. We want to bundle and share inspirational content such as videos and small travel guides from people whom travelers trust, such as their friends or influencers.” How much of a success this will translate into, the time will tell.
The popularity ranking, as it was before, still relies heavily on Traveler Reviews, but hotels and other establishments now should be more wary about their rates and availability on the hot season to improve their “Best Value” rankings. It is important to fix potholes in service, taking the reviews into account, which is best managed by an online reputation management solution like ReviewPro.
Aside from that, with the new Places to Stay category, big establishments will see even more competition from smaller, boutique ones that can provide a more personal & dedicated holiday experience. The solution for the bigger establishments is to channel more of their online bookings through TripAdvisor, to take advantage of the “Best Seller” badges.
The biggest hit though seems to be for the seasonal hotels which do not receive continuous reviews all year long. These kind of hotels are best suited to use a post-stay survey solution like ReviewPro GSS which can ensure that the establishments receive survey responses which can also be posted on sites like TripAdvisor or HolidayCheck through ReviewCollection Program.
By investing in the solutions for fixing the problems at the root of service level problems, hoteliers can avoid much bigger costs later for fixing the lower TridAdvisor rankings.
 U.S’s oldest gas station on TripAdvisor: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g30034-d10224091-Reviews-Reighard_s_Gas_Station_one_of_the_oldest_Gas_Stations_in_America-Altoona_Pennsylv.html
 “The Shed” TripAdvisor’s #1 Fake Restaurant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqPARIKHbN8
 TripAdvisor Review Guidelines: https://www.tripadvisorsupport.com/hc/en-us/articles/200614797-Our-guidelines-for-traveler-reviews
 Best Value Ranking Criteria: https://reknown.com/2017/07/tripadvisors-new-best-value-ranking-mean-hotels/
 TripAdvisor relaunches as a social network: https://www.dw.com/en/tripadvisor-relaunches-as-a-social-network/a-46273147