I began to add this into the choosing series of posts, then I thought this is a bigger topic and deserves a stand alone post with screenshots. So let us dive into this subject, feet first! 😉
Disregard The Rankings – Read The Reviews
This is a really important point when looking at hotels on Tripadvisor. Here is the hotel listing for Honolulu. If you look at it closely, you will see one hotel in the top ten only has 68 reviews! How can that be fair to the other hotels in any way shape or form? I do not understand how they put this ranking table together but I can tell you this, ignore it completely.
To get the real story of Honolulu hotels you need to dig a little deeper, read some reviews, once you have a shortlist post it on the forums and people will chime in with their thoughts which might offer you new suggestions you had not considered before.
Why do people write reviews, anyway?
The reason I write reviews is to inform others of the experience – good or bad – that I had. I cannot assume that is the motive of everyone posting, and to be on the safe side, nor can you!
It is important to understand that to get consistently good reviews from real travellers is *hard work* so some companies will occasionally short cut and hire people to write good reviews of places they probably never stayed in, or they will actively solicit reviews from people they are pretty sure are going to write a positive review and not mention writing reviews to those they think might give them a bad review.
This is called gaming the system, and it is not cool. 😦 But this is how some companies – hotels, tour operators, attractions – operate.
In most cases, the businesses that may be gaming the system are doing it quietly and behind the scenes. However, at the end of this post, I will discuss one company on Trip Advisor which I am confident are doing it mostly because they have admitted they do it. Not only that, some of the more critical reviews have mentioned that they were directly asked to put a positive review on Trip Advisor by the company’s owner.
These solicited, not quite genuine and on occasion totally fake reviews are generally easy to pick out of the crowd, if you know what to look for. And if you did not before, you will once you read this post. 🙂
How Many Reviews or Forum Posts?
The first thing I do is look at is how many reviews – or forum posts – the review poster has.
Please note there are some incredible people who spend a lot of time helping people out on the forums rather than writing reviews of the places they visited. When they do go to the effort to write a review, it is usually very well done, and should not be disregarded because of a low review count. I will give you one example of this – one of my favourite Destination Advisors on the Oahu forums – MsFuzz.
MsFuzz has written only two reviews. However, if you click on her name while on Tripadvisor (not in the image you see above because that is a screenshot – when you are on Tripadvisor keep in mind any text in blue is a link on TripAdvisor) you will be led to her profile, where you can see MsFuzz has been on the forums since March 2007, and has written a huge 22,690 posts plus 97 traveler articles. MzFuzz, If you happen to be reading this – Love your work – you are a wonderful destination advisor and help so many people on a regular basis.
If the number is of reviews is 1 *and* the forum post count is 0, I normally disregard that review, unless it is incredibly well written and informative, and has a balance of positives VS negatives. You have to remember, every reviewer started out with one review at some stage. Revisit my first ever review here – I now have written 41 reviews!
If the reviewer has less than 5 reviews and they are joined Tripadvisor a while ago, I will wonder why they only have 5 reviews. I will look at their profile and see what the other reviews were for. Depending on what I see, I might give their review a little less weight than I would for someone who joined this month but has written 5 reviews.
I also know the forums can be difficult to find, so I do not usually hold a lack of forum posts against someone.
Sorting The Reviews
You can sort the reviews on Trip Advisor by grading – click on the blue word eg Excellent, Very Good, Average, Poor, Terrible.
Why would you want to do sort by grading?
I like to look at all the terrible reviews together, I will sometimes do this for the poor grading as well. You can pick up on a theme by doing this – eg if there are 24 terrible reviews and every single one of them mentions the hotel has low water pressure in the shower, and then you go on to read the most recent reviews without sorting by grading and some of those reviews mention it too, it is a safe bet that the hotel actually does have low water pressure.
So then I can decide – can I live with low water pressure? For an overnight stay, sure I can. No problem. For a 10 night stay? Unlikely.
Secondly, this is a good way to tell if people went into their hotel experience with super high expectations which were not met. One of the reasons some of the 3 or less star hotels get excellent reviews is because people had paid a lower price for the room and therefore were not quite as picky with the experience they had, whereas those who stayed in a 5 star hotel generally expect everything to be perfect.
How do I turn off sort by grading?
Once you are done looking at the reviews for that grading, click on the little X on the box seen below –
And you will go back to sort by date with all the different gradings included.
The More Factor
If someone has written less than 5 lines for a hotel stay, this is not what I call a helpful review. Even my one night stays generate long reviews, because I am trying to give the other people as much information as possible to make a good decision on whether or not they should stay at this hotel.
When you visit most review pages on Tripadvisor you will get condensed versions of the reviews, and at the bottom of each review is a more button. Once you have clicked it, this will give you the long versions of every review on that page. I think you have to click it again for every page, too. At least that is my experience.
Too Positive, Too Many Short Posts.
If all the of the reviews for a business or attraction read like this –
Close to the beach, great customer service, nice & friendly. Couldn’t have been happier
– and they seem to all come from one review posters.. something is wacky there. You will find this happens especially on vacation rental reviews so be super careful with those, do not always rely on them. Google the name of your condo block and the room number, and you might find a different story entirely.
Too Many Helpful Votes
If a one review poster gets over 10 helpful votes for their short and all positive review, it would be safe to assume that something screwy is going on there. I have written 41 reviews. I have received 17 helpful votes. I appreciate every one of them because I do work hard on the reviews and knowing my reviews have helped people do encourage me to put the time and effort into writing the next one.
Those helpful votes are difficult to get because a lot of review readers do not vote. But you will now, when you read reviews you find helpful, right? 🙂 And here is how you do that.
Click on the green YES box next to Was this review helpful? Also, I included problem with this review in the screenshot, where you can report a review if you need to.
The Very Negative Review.
There are some people on this world who have a bad time everywhere they go, and then they rush home to write bad reviews about it. This is one reason when considering reviews it can be helpful to look at the profile of the writer – is every review one dot for terrible? If yes, I would disregard that reviewer.
You Are Doing It Wrong
Remember I said I would link to a company I am confident has gamed the system? Here tis. I will not name that company here, nor will I name anyone associated with it, because it has been my experience the guy who runs it loses his shiznit when people say bad things about his company.
Read through the reviews for and decide for yourself, taking into consideration the topics I’m talking about in this post, whether or not the reviews you’re seeing for this particular company are real, or staged in order to earn your business and money.
He visited the Oahu forums and blasted us for not recommending his tour, a while back, and spoke downright disrespectfully to a much loved destination advisor. At the same time he admitted he has solicited reviews. See also this thread where someone who received abusive emails from him after writing a bad review talks about their experience.
When you read through the many pages of one review glowing reviews, note the huge amount of helpful votes on these reviews – some of the reviews have over 10 helpful votes.
And make sure you read his replies to those who wrote bad reviews – or even average reviews – he tears those reviewers to shreds – you can look for them under average, poor, terrible. Then ask yourself, is that someone you want to pay a large sum of money to be around? I’m going with no, hell no, no way would I ever take a tour from this company.
I do not link to it to be mean to the guy – I link to it so you can get an idea of how you do need to pay close attention and not just book a hotel, tour, or restaurant based on the ranking it has been given on a website. You need to look deeper, read the reviews, look for patterns which might suggest someone is trying to gain an advantage by getting a higher ranking, and especially be careful with the “rankings” on trip advisor.
In the end
It is your holiday. If you pick a tour that everyone supposedly loves and it turns out you hate it, the most you have lost is the money you spent on the tour and the time you spent on it. If you eat at a restaurant everyone supposedly adores and have a bad meal, it is one bad meal.
However, if you pick a hotel where things have been deliberately skewed in order to get a better ranking and it turns out you hate the hotel – it could turn your trip into a nightmare. So be very careful – google the name of the hotel together with words like travel blog, trip reports, ask on the Tripadvisor forums if anyone stayed where you want to stay, research as much as you can, check on Oyster and see if there are pics of the hotel, and when you do read reviews, read them in context and for content.