TripAdvisor’s 2016 Ranking Algorithm Update: What You Need to Know

TripAdvisor is one of the biggest travel websites in the world. It goes without saying that the site has a major impact on the hospitality industry.

For example, 67% of travelers check TripAdvisor a few times a month or more.
65% of travelers are more likely to book a hotel that has won a TripAdvisor award.
In other words, TripAdvisor is a channel you as a hotelier can’t afford to ignore.

TripAdvisor has its own ranking algorithm, the Popularity Index, which determines how hotels rank in comparison to other hotels in the same area.
In February 2016, the Popularity Index was updated for hotel listings.

In this article, we’ll look at those changes and how they affect your hotel listing.

How does the new Popularity Index work?

The higher ranked a hotel is, the more travelers see it.
Naturally, you want your hotel to rank as high as possible in the search results.

Before, hotels with a few reviews could quickly climb in rankings if they received good reviews in a short period of time.

This meant that some hotels were ranked much higher than hotels with more reviews over a long period of time. In other words, hotels with a better long-term track record didn’t rank as high as hotels with a short term track record.

TripAdvisor’s goal is to get the best hotels to rank higher. This ensures that travelers are happy and keep on using TripAdvisor when they book hotels.

Subsequently, TripAdvisor’s algorithm update was aimed to crack down on this glitch in the system.

That’s why TripAdvisor changed its algorithm to prioritize consistency. Now hotels that have performed better over a longer period of time are ranked higher in the search results.

The algorithm is based on three ranking factors. Namely:

  1. Quality of reviews: Obviously, positive reviews are important. However, it’s unclear what makes a positive review particularly qualitative.
  2. Quantity of reviews: The more reviews you have, the higher you rank.
  3. Age of reviews: Recent reviews are prioritized, and older reviews have less impact over time.

“Quantity” and “freshness” of reviews are pretty self-explanatory. On the other hand, “quality” is harder to define. Is it the star rating or the amount of text? Both? Or something else? Because it’s so hard to define, quantity and freshness are more important than before.

All three ranking factors work together, and this means that hotels with a weaker track record won’t outrank hotels with consistently good feedback.

tripadvisor-popularity-index-algorithm-update

Example of the first page results for Paris hotels – a high star rating doesn’t guarantee that you’ll rank higher. The amount of reviews and their age play a role.

How can you rank higher on TripAdvisor?

Now that you know how TripAdvisor’s algorithm works, the question is: how can you rank higher on the platform?

Let’s start with #1 – quality.

While we don’t know the exact criteria, we can generally conclude that the more positive reviews you have, the higher your hotel ranks.
In other words, the more five-star reviews you have with at least some amount of text and probably some positive statements, the better your hotel ranks.

So how do you get those positive reviews?

Unfortunately, you have something working against you: customers are generally more likely to share a bad experience compared to a good one.

On the other hand, that applies to all hotels, and there are ways to encourage visitors who are satisfied with their experience to share a review.

The most important part is to set guest expectations and fulfill those expectations.
Make sure the information on TripAdvisor is correct and up to date. Feature images that reflect what your hotel looks like in real life. If you’ve set the right expectations, it won’t be hard to fulfill those expectations.

Great customer service and clean rooms go a long way.

Second, the more reviews you have, the higher you rank.

You need to encourage visitors to leave reviews. This doesn’t have to be very hard.

For example, place a welcome card or a flier in every room. With the card or flier, you can encourage guests to review their stay and include a QR code to your TripAdvisor listing.

Alternatively, you can send an email to thank you visitors for their stay and include a link to your TripAdvisor listing.

Just remember, all kinds of bribes are against TripAdvisor’s user policy. This includes asking for reviews with incentives.

This leads us to the third ranking factor: TripAdvisor now prioritizes newer reviews.

In other words, you need to keep on asking and encouraging visitors to leave reviews.

For seasonal hotels, this might pose a problem. After all, visitors leave reviews during the high season. But what happens the rest of the year? In the worst case, your hotel is outranked by other hotels that are open the whole year.

To avoid this, you can ask your visitors to join your newsletter. During low or off-season, send out a newsletter and encourage them to leave a review.

Last but not least, there’s one more thing you need to keep in mind on TripAdvisor: Your own activity.

TripAdvisor doesn’t list this as a ranking factor. However, there are some things you need to know in terms of how you can improve your hotel’s ranking.

TripAdvisor wants its visitors to have a great experience on its platform. That’s why it monitors your activity on its site. Being active on the platform by responding to reviews can help boost rankings. (Read: How to Respond Properly to Online Hotel Reviews).

Why? Simple: if visitors see a friendly response to reviews by you or your staff, it’s much more likely that they will leave their own reviews. This, again, helps your hotel rank higher.

In Conclusion

With its algorithm change in February 2016, TripAdvisor aims to reward hotels that are consistently performing well. That’s why you need to ensure that your hotel gets positive and consistent reviews.

But don’t wait for visitors to take the initiative to leave a review. Chances are that they forget to do so, even if they enjoyed their stay. Instead, encourage them to review their stay.

Just remember: TripAdvisor’s ranking factors work together. You need to ensure that your reviews fulfill all the criteria to see a change in how well your hotel ranks.

  • Thanks Dumitru – Really helpful article for property owners of all types. Have you performed a similar analysis of other aggregation sites?

    • Hello Kirk,
      I haven’t reviewed other aggregation websites, just TripAdvisor.
      Do you have any in mind that are worth checking out?

  • PMiloglav

    Thanks Dumitru for this great article.
    I think small hotels are in trouble now and have a real example. I represent a five star, boutique hotel with 13 rooms only and for last 6 years we’ve been among top 5 hotels in our town, most of the time in top 3. Now when these new algorithms are applied, in just a few weeks we dropped to 17th – 19th position (yesterday we were 17th and today 19th although in the meantime we got 1 excellent review).
    After reading your article and hearing similar stories on TA forums, we don’t see the way how we can go up to a higher position. As said, we are small and can not have “quantity”. Furthermore, we’ve been responding to every single review, regularly update photos/content, pay for business listing; we’ve been receiving Certificate of Excellence since 2010 ad Traveller’s Choice since 2013, we don’t have bad reviews at all…
    I think the solution would be if TripAdvisor creates a separate category: Small or Boutique hotels.
    Just to mention at the end that we tried to contact our representative at TA to give us some explanations or advices, but haven’t received any response to our emails our telephone calls…
    Would love to hear other opinions on this subject. Thank you again.

    • Hi Miloglav,

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      I believe that any business that relies too much on a single source of traffic and revenue will get in trouble sooner or later. That’s why you always need a good and reliable website and marketing should never be ignored, even when you are booked at 80-90% capacity.
      And of course your analytics software should be properly configured, so as to see which channels give you the most bookings. If TA gives you 1 booking per month then don’t worry too much about it, and make sure not to send your website visitors to your listing on their website, or your potential customers might migrate to a competitor.

      • PMiloglav

        Hi again and thanks for your response.

        I think you missed the point. For us, TripAdvisor is not about source of revenue, traffic etc… it’s rather about our image. If we talk about booking channels, we receive most of our bookings from our very reliable website, direct contacts, recommendations and returning guests.

        We work hard to have satisfied guests, most of them compliment us on TripAdvisor, but due to new algorithms we have such low ranking there just because we are small. We think it’s not fair. Thanks.

        • That is absurd indeed.
          A place that has 200 5-star reviews should not appear in the last spots, way behind places with 2-star and 3-star reviews.

          Hopefully TA are monitoring the results and will tweak their algorithms further.

          But I won’t be surprised if one of the ranking factors on TA is how much traffic you send them too, or how much organic traffic they are getting for your listing. Don’t have anything to back up this, but as I said, I won’t be surprised if something like that ever comes up.

          • PMiloglav

            Thanks. Hopefully TA will update their algorithms soon and include accommodation size as a relevant factor. Once again thanks for the useful article and all the best.

    • sally webb

      Yes, PMiloglav, we have precisely the same situation. But we have only 4 rooms, AND we are a little off the beaten track. And so, after four years of being in the top 10 TA ranking for both our accommodation, and our small restaurant, and much of that in the top 5, we dropped suddenly, in both categories, to down around 18 – 20. And, like you, any new, positive review that we receive now drops our ranking even lower. Like you, I tried unsuccessfully to contact TA, and suspect that they’ve removed this option due to the high volume of disgruntled business owners trying to contact them. A separate category for small/boutique hotels is definitely called for. However, it would appear that TA holds all the cards and we, who provide them with their platform and revenue, hold none. Also unfortunate is that travellers still believe that TA is completely impartial.

  • Mofas

    With all the respects I think Dimitri you should monitor on a weekly basis your ranks when updating and answering reviews and content. What you are just describing on your article makes no sense if you are really handling TA listings on a daily basis. I would suggest you to create a simple excel sheet and monitor daily your property performance and reviews feedback, you would not take too long to realize TA algorithm does not work as explained on your post.

    • Thank you, but I believe you didn’t attentively read the post.
      The explained rankings factors in the post refer to information officially provided by TripAdvisor in their press release. I don’t see why I would assume otherwise.

      Thank you for your input nonetheless.

  • Sachin M

    For our chain of hotels, we do consider Tripadvisor an important platform for driving in customers to our hotels. The reasons are quite a few of which the important ones are that the spend which Tripadvisor has, we as hoteliers do not have and as such, their reach and access to a wider more focused audience is undeniable and unbeatable for us individual hotels or small chains. Believing in this theory, we encourage our guests to provide their genuine feedback with regards to their experience at our hotels on Tripadvisor and that is the difference between the carrot and the stick for our teams which helps them focus on providing positive guest experiences. Integrity of reviews is also of prime importance to us and therefore, we have a zero tolerance towards any fake reviews or unethical practices to get reviews in our system.

    Having said that, here are a few perplexing facts that make me think this new algorithm that Tripadvisor has developed and launched has some faults in them where in one of our hotels in the 16th rank moves right down to the 63rd rank in just 3 weeks in the absence of any reviews whereas there are other hotels who have received just 1 or 2 reviews have maintained their better ranks or moved up – Strange. In addition, a good and genuine review posted by one genuine customer has also been removed without any explanation and that too after being published. Attempts to reach out to Tripadvisor has not yielded any positive or convincing responses. We are still attempting to resolve this matter with little luck so far.

    Another example is about another set of our hotels which have been clocking in excess of five 4&5 star reviews but showing little improvement in rankings compared to other hotels that have received lesser reviews and of lesser number of stars – Strange!

    Even guests who are staying in our hotels for extended periods of time and are extremely happy with our services have not had their reviews published if they have written their feedback on the Tripadvisor platform while staying in the hotel and using the free Wi-Fi provided to them – Reason given is IP Address conflict – Strange again!

    Tripadvisor may have had the first movers advantage in this segment and our industry of hospitality and hence it is it biggest Hotel Reputation Management Platform available online, but as a hospitality professional, I would not hesitate to state the obvious that they have grown into a sort of rowdies in this space who are threatening some of the hotels and holding them to ransom, sometime against their wishes too if they do not want to participate. Their other offer of business listings is also just a money spinner scheme for them with not genuine advantage over the OTAs for the hotels.

    These are my personal opinions formed through some of my own experiences I have had as an industry professional and is not binding to anyone or the company I work for.

  • Kelley F.

    I found the rankings in our town changed and suddenly the ones that book through Trip Advisor are over half of the ones in the top 10 B&B’s in Stratford, ON–I think there is a new back door ranking that boosts your rank if you use TA as a booking engine. Two B&B’s rank higher than us, with fewer positive review in the last two years and and fewer overall reviews–yet they climbed ahead of ours suddenly when they started to use the TA booking engine. I tried to study the patters and the use of TA booking was the only real difference. Anyone else find this?

  • Mike Hixson

    Good analysis, however the points about TA’s becoming a booking engine certainly raise suspicions concerning how this might influence rankings. It would be smart of TA to unequivocally deny any connection between these two factors, if the site wants to keep credibility high.
    Also, with regard to quality rankings, the very best strategy for consumer satisfaction is to set customer expectations appropriately high for your enterprise, then exceed those expectations. Your satisfaction levels will be higher, and this is a way to build evangelical customers who generate referral after referral for you. Manage expectations for maximum impact.

    • sally webb

      In addition, the revised algorithmic “system” severely disadvantages smaller, or out of the way, businesses. No matter how consistently good, or excellent, as small business’s reviews may be, under this system, they will never be able to compete fairly with larger, mainstream businesses.