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Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

Helsinki, Finland
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Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

I have recently been troubled by a case in which a hotel appeared to be “stuffing” its five-star reviews with anodyne four-line ‘thank you, thank you, everything was wonderful’ reports from people with one review to their name


More of that in a second.

First, a couple of product liability get-out clauses:

In the first place, I’m not suggesting, as some have earlier tried to suggest on these pages, that these “1 review” individuals are necessarily fakes, even though they do look and smell a bit funny.

Secondly, I’m not suggesting that “more is inevitably good” in terms of how many reviews a TA member can bring to the table. That is absurd. There are, I’m sure, plenty out there with a prolific review count who can barely string two words together, let alone give a sensible account of their stay or their meal.

Thirdly (sorry, having read what has happened to a few other thread-starters before me, I really DO have to get these “I’m not suggesting…“ things out of the way first), this particular case is not a matter of competitors putting up fake negative reviews to throw mud at other establishments, but a clear attempt to hoist the establishment up the all-important (well, to some people, at least) TA rankings of “#xx in Hotels in Toytown-on-Sea”.

It’s a hot-button discussion topic, clearly, and these threads usually generate flames and end up in acrimony and accusations that: “It's like trying to turn an oil-tanker/Trip Advisor doesn’t care/is only interested in the traffic and revenue/won’t go after the offenders” OR “You’re just being paranoid/people should read reviews intelligently/yeah, but EVERYBODY does it/99.95% of reviews are completely legit…”, etc, etc.

This made me reluctant to even voice my views here, but the numbers in question were rather compelling, and I very much doubt this particular hotel is a one-off example.

Here we go:

In order to check if my first hunch was exaggerated, a few days ago I looked more closely at the 120 most recent five-star reviews and the 70 most recent three-star reviews of the hotel in question.

This seemed a reasonable sample to take, roughly proportional to the total numbers of each through the hotel’s TA history, and covering pretty much the same time-frame.

Of the 120 ***** reviews, 108 were "1 Review". (and many also "Via Mobile"). This is 90%.

Incidentally, of the most recent fifty, 47 were in this category (94%), and of the most recent 100, 92 were single review posters (yep, 92% - maths is dead easy!).

In very stark contrast, of the 70 most recent *** reviews, just THREE were from single-review reviewers (roughly 4%).

ALL THIRTY of the 30 most recent three-star reviews were from multiple-review TA members.

So, 90+% noobs for the five-star reviews, and fewer than 5% for the 3-star reviews????

Given the numbers involved, I think it would be naive to suggest this imbalance is pure coincidence. I am, of course, open to your other explanations for the skewing, but I should warn you I will be hard to persuade that it is other than: “Hey, we’ll give you free this-or-that if you write us a nice TA review” (or some similar slightly dodgy receptionist gambit).

To return briefly to the “people should read reviews intelligently” counter-argument – YES, I quite agree, and I DO, and so do many others, but the point of such an exercise as described above is to gently shove the establishment up the ladder so it gets noticed by those users who think staying in hotel #8 is better than staying in hotel #88, and who cannot be bothered to find out WHY the two hotels are ranked where they are.

Just getting your hotel or restaurant “on the dance-floor" as far as organisations like TA is concerned may be as important as having reliable reviews. Begging for good reviews from noobs as they check out - or giving them a complimentary cocktail as a quid pro quo - is not exactly pernicious behaviour, but if you are a hotel or restaurant NOT doing this and you are watching the irresistible rise of one who does, you might well feel a bit peeved.

As to what TA can do about these sorts of things, that’s beyond me.

I don’t buy the “credit card details required” approach, as it plainly won’t work, and I’m also reluctant to have a weighting/handicapping system for “1 review” reviewers, although it might be worth noting that in places like eBay, vendors and buyers DO discriminate against people with minimal feedback. Amazon, too, allows users to sort reviews by their perceived worth: "5 of 6 people found the following review helpful".

Would it be quite impossible for TA to add a third means of sorting reviews: Rating, Date, and “Number of Reviews”? Or even a fourth, flagging up "Helpful Reviews"?

Many of us already subliminally use this technique, and I hardly imagine it would do any harm if TA made it that much easier for its users. Since it is possible to reward what seems like a good review with a "helpful" tick, it seems rather curious to me that there is no rapid mechanism for searching for such reviews...

Oregon Coast
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for Crescent City, Oregon Coast, Oregon, Redwood National Park
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21. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

Well said, Jenazz -- and many of us repeatedly state that.

Somehow, people seem to think that TripAdvisor 'rates' and gives 'stars'.

No and no!

What a person does when writing a review is simply state one's *satisfaction* regarding their experience with the business. One can be highly satisfied with their creamy ice cream cone from 'Iggy's Incredible Ice Cream Shop' and award them a 5-dot. Or....... one can have slow service and over/under cooked food at 'La Snobberie Ristoronte" and give them a 3-dot.

Reviews are not comparisons. Well, some undoubtedly are, but they are not meant to be.

TripAdvisor does not even use *stars*. They are dots, which in earlier days were supposed to represent 'hoots'. Ollie the Owl and all that, ya know?


I'm not totally opposed to trying to divide TA's overall "restaurant" listings into categories. However I think this would be a nightmarishly monumental and completely thankless task. There is such variation around the world -- and we all have to remember that TA is a worldwide site -- that trying to find common headings where eateries could be neatly slotted might well be impossible!

Some posters have suggested from time to time that TA change the overall category to "Eateries" and that might help alleviate some of the complaints that 'McDonald's' , et al, isn't a restaurant ;-)

Edited: 01 August 2014, 21:23
Melbourne, Australia
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for Sydney, Bargain Travel, Food and Travel
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22. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

100% agree with hB.

It would be nightmarish, and although there is the point made by Otyikondo, that accommodation is partially categorized, I think there are hundred fold (yes exaggeration) more variations involved with eateries. There's just simply no pleasing or fitting into everyones' interpretation.

So it has to come down to what suits the greater majority. Otherwise each time an unusual cuisine develops or new concept opens, we have to invent a different category.

Helsinki, Finland
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23. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

I just went from reading the two posts above (Half-Brit and KVE) to the "RESTAURANTS" tag at the top of the page, and began to feel rather silly.

Very silly, really.

Because, fundamentally, the differentiation already EXISTS, if only the user chooses to call it up!

It is perfectly possible to search here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants

and to locate in the city of your choice a restaurant that is recommended for special occasions/fine dining, whatever, comes in the $$$-$$$$ price category, and specialises in Middle Eastern cuisine.

So you have no need to have cafés, McDonald's, ice-cream parlours, or pubs cluttering up your search. (and no need to even know that Fred's Ice Cream Extravaganza is #4 in Baltimore, causing you to cry out: "WHY?")

And this is on the blooming FRONT page of TA!

If one scans through restaurants in a given city, like here:


and then filters accordingly, the whole thing is even more precise, and can be narrowed down to particular quarters and districts of town as well.

Utlimately, therefore, on the restaurant front there is no NEED for us to grumble about finding McDonald's in our lists (or any other place that we aren't interested in today) if we simply exclude them from our search to start with.

The only fly in this ointment is... how many people actually SEARCH IN THIS SMART WAY?

I probably am as guilty as most in that I use a scattergun approach first and grumble afterwards, although I do use the map function a lot (which I why I got so angry when it was so hopelessly WRONG a while back).

I'm beginning to shift uneasily in my seat and wonder if some posters are on the right track in "complaining" that people in general look too blindly at the hit parade of rankings and numbers, rather than looking for what they WANT (a meal in a certain type of restaurant with a certain type of cuisine at a certain price, not a million miles from where they are right now).

Rest assured, however, I am not shifting one iota on my other feelings about how something should be done to distinguish between meaningless chaff reviews and ones that have some meat on the bones, and to factor this in somehow to how establishments are rated. If the secret decoder ring algorithm could super-secretly be modified to give greater weight to reviews deemed by the users to be "useful", I'd be happy, and if I could sort and search on these reviews I'd be happy, too.

So Cal
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24. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

Don't put too much stock in that $-$$$$ categorization - when you write a restaurant review, it asks you to assign a $ based on how casual or formal the place is, not on the price of the meal. So I never bother to fill in anything for that.

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25. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

This is the first time I've looked at this forum .

.I've found it very interesting . I would like to say that for my premier review with trip advisor , I was asked by the hotel's reception if I knew your site & would I be willing to put in writing the verbal compliments I had given to the management on leaving .

As soon as I got home I was pleased to discover you on internet & explain about the wonderful cream /chocolate gateaux we'd had whilst away. Since then I enjoy trying out new restaurants & hotels & adding them to your reviews .I am a fan & always check with you before going for a meal or on holiday .If it's raining & a tourist is bored they will be able to find a museum or something entertaining to occupy them thanks to your site .

Getting back on subject I have to agree with otyikondo that I too have noticed that once only reviewers do seem to be suspect .One could say my first review was coerced but I gave an honest critique of my long weekend & became a " groupie " . I could have stayed a first reviewer .

Having just come from a very mediocre stay in an all inclusive hotel ( I gave 3 stars because it was clean & the food was healthy for the budget price we had paid ) ; I've been surprised by all the 5 star reviews they are receiving saying how wonderful the staff are .I know I'm nosy to keep looking after my holiday has finished but I really cannot believe the immense number of high reviews they've had when they really are so very basic .

26. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

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Removed on: 04 August 2014, 20:36
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27. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

Linda, FYI, the ratings are based on individual customer satisfaction, not objective evaluations against industry standards. If someone believes he has had an excellent experience at a 2-star motel, he has every reason to give a 5-dot rating.

Sofargoner, who told you such information? Were you given hard evidence or hearsay/speculation?

Edited: 03 August 2014, 03:17
So Cal
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28. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

Yeah, that seems like the kind of accusation that needs proof.

Linda, I don't think you're nosy at all for looking at reviews after you've stayed. I I that myself. At that point I have a different perspective on which reviews really are helpful - if nothing else, I at least know if something's utterly incorrect.

Edited: 03 August 2014, 21:34
29. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

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Removed on: 09 August 2014, 18:54
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30. Re: Dodgy “1 review” reviewers - fact or fiction?

Adam, "nothing will change" because you haven't shown hard evidence that the reviews are fake. The reviews meet guidelines. That's the end of it.

So, 80% of reviews for 4 properties in the top 20 were from 1st time posters. Ok, cool. According to your statistics, less than 40% of reviews from the remaining 16 of those 20 were from 1st time posters. If you were really interested in pursuing this, it seems more prudent to investigate 4 properties, not 20.

Photos per review means nothing to me. I post very few photos. I write mostly hotel and restaurant reviews and I hardly ever take pictures of them. When I do, there are usually many others who have already posted photos, so it's just not worth the effort. Reviewing sans pictures doesn't bother me one bit.

Regarding the majority of 1st timer posts being 5 dots, bearing in mind that there have been complaints on the other end of the spectrum in this forum (single-posts are always negative), keep this question in mind. Why do people review for the first time? Well, they've had an experience that has compelled them to share it with the entire known universe. "Average" does not generally have that effect. "My room was adequate! Woo hoo!" That's an example of a sentence you'll never read in a review.

Your final suggestion of not counting the 1st 5 reviews is asking TA to engage in hypocrisy. TA pushes for more reviews and new members. They encourage properties to promote writing reviews. For them to turn around and say that the reviews that they asked for will not be counted towards a property's PI score is nothing short of hypocritical. Besides, once true fraudsters figure out that you need 5 reviews in order to be counted (which will take no more than about 18 seconds), they'll just review 4 fast food restaurants and a Howard Johnson's and call it a day.