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Q&A Tips: Climbing TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index, Part 1

By Daniel Edward Craig

ReviewPro’s recent Climbing TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index webinar was our most popular yet – almost 2,500 hoteliers around the world registered to listen. Here, host Daniel Edward Craig answers some of the most popular questions submitted by attendees.

So what exactly is the formula for TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index?
TripAdvisor doesn’t disclose all the elements that go into the Popularity Index algorithm, which determines the order in which businesses are ranked. But during the webinar, Brian Payea, TripAdvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, told us the three key ingredients: quality, recency and quantity of reviews.

What is meant by “recency” and why is it so important?
Recency refers to the date the review was posted. The more recent the review, the greater its weight on Popularity Index rankings. According to Payea, last week’s reviews count a lot more in the calculation than last month’s or last year’s reviews.

Why? “We know from watching traveler behavior on the site that they focus a lot of attention on the most recent reviews,” he explained. “Recent, fresh information about a property helps them make a well informed decision.”

How can we generate more reviews?
There are two approaches to generating reviews: proactive and organic. Being proactive means asking guests for reviews. This could be at checkout, by giving guests a business card or printing the request on the folio, or by adding a review widget to your website or Facebook page. Sending a post-stay email request tends to generate the strongest results.

TripAdvisor offers a number of tools for soliciting reviews in the Management Center, including Review Express and a “Write a Review Widget.”

As for the organic approach, this means letting reviews occur naturally, by providing a guest experience that is so unexpected, special and memorable guests feel compelled to tell others in a review. See strategies from top-ranking hotels in this ReviewPro article.

Can we encourage guests to write reviews while on property?
“We would much prefer that reviews come from off property,” Payea said during the webinar, “certainly not from hotel computers themselves.” He explained that TripAdvisor has automated resources that look at reviews as they come in, and reviews posted on property may trigger them.

“If you get a message from TripAdvisor [regarding] suspicious activity and you believe it is associated with people submitting reviews from your business center, for example,” he said, “let us know that you believe this could be a contributing factor.”

Can we offer our guests incentives or rewards for writing reviews?
According to TripAdvisor policy, “offering incentives such as discounts, upgrades, or any special treatment in exchange for reviews” is considered fraud. Click here to learn more.

How long do reviews stay valid?
Payea said that reviews stay on the site forever but count less and less in Popularity Index calculations over time. For example, he cited the first review ever posted to TripAdvisor, in February 2001, which is still on site but does not contribute to popularity any longer.

How come so many small properties outrank large properties? Does TripAdvisor favor smaller properties?
Payea couldn’t give details on the calculation, but said, “There are a lot of instances where a property can have a thousand reviews and a high rank, and a new property comes into the market and, after six months or a year of fantastic service with maybe a much small number of reviews, maybe 100 or 200, it can surpass that property.

“The reason is recency is so important. When recent reviews are compared head to head with the competitor you’ll probably see the property with more good recent reviews in last six months or year is going to be further ahead than the property with higher total reviews but not the quantity of reviews in those recent critical months.” So, he advised, “Pay attention to total reviews but with the caveat that total in recent months is very important.”

He also said that “being small is not a big impediment to moving up.” Question is, is it an advantage? We didn’t ask him, but logic tells us it is in some respects because smaller properties have greater control over the guest experience and can thereby drive a higher rate of guest satisfaction. For larger hotels there are more moving parts—though more resources too. So really, it’s anyone’s game.

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In my city, a budget hotel outranks the most luxurious hotel. How can that be?
Payea said that hotels often mistake the Popularity Index for a measure of the amenities hotels provide. The calculation is a measurement of guest satisfaction based on information provided by travelers. It is a measure of how well the property succeeds in exceeding the expectations of guests. He stressed that guest satisfaction is different from the typical amenity level calculations that drive other hotel listing sites.

The key takeaway here? If you want to climb the Popularity Index, you need to generate a steady stream of positive reviews. And that will be accomplished by generating a higher level of guest satisfaction. It’s that simple. And that complex.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we answer more questions about the Popularity Index algorithm as well as the criteria TripAdvisor uses to determine whether to remove a disputed review.

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