A Beginners Guide to TripAdvisor

Since first launching back in the year 2000, TripAdvisor has grown from small b2b social media platform to become the world’s largest travel and review website. Although initially starting out as a hub to host official reviews from guides, handbooks, and newspapers, the website soon started to ask its visitors to contribute, becoming an early adopter of user generated content. Now, the site has over 400 million users, and contains around 570 million reviews.

Whether you’re a pub, restaurant, hotel or casual dining operator, it’s highly likely that at some point a customer has logged on to the site and left you a review. Whilst it’s safe to say that the site has grown to become something that some in the foodservice industry dislike (or even fear), many have found the success of the platform rewarding. In fact, a recent survey by Nisbets found that 72% of respondents working in foodservice felt that TripAdvisor has had a positive impact on their business.

If you’re for or against the site or even if you’re not entirely sure what TripAdvisor is, here at McCain we think there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make the most of it. After all, when used properly the site can be an easy, cost-effective way to let the world know about the great food you create every day. So, if you’re looking to maximise the benefits of those positive reviews, learn how to deal with negative feedback, or find out how those ratings really are calculated, take a look at our beginners guide to TripAdvisor below.

What is TripAdvisor? 

For the uninitiated, TripAdvisor is the internet’s largest review website, focusing mainly on restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions. All reviews on the site are generated by users - an estimated 270 new contributions are added to the site every minute – and locations are rated on a 5 point system, with 1 star being the worst possible score, and 5 stars the best. With each review users write a short description of their experience and can also upload photos, although this is optional.

From each user review, TripAdvisor then calculates an overall score out of 5 for a business, and places it on a scale within a specific area. For example, a business can be classed as the 25th most popular restaurant with a certain town, but as the site also looks at wider geographic regions, so the same restaurant could also be the 300th most popular in the UK.

Chef in whites in a busy kitchen tossing food in a wok with fire

How are TripAdvisor rankings calculated?

The site says that it calculates its rankings using three metrics:

  • The recency of reviews
  • The quality of reviews
  •  The number of reviews held by a listing

So for example, a restaurant with six 5* reviews posted within the last week, would in theory rank higher than a restaurant with five 5* reviews posted within the same time period, as the first listing has more reviews. Similarly, a restaurant with six 5* reviews will rank higher than a restaurant with five 5* reviews and one 4* review.

Whilst this seems fairly simple, TripAdvisor has come under fire by some who claim that their system is too easily manipulated. A clear example of this is the case of The Shed at Dulwich, a fake restaurant (and actual shed) which last year rose up through the site’s ranks to become London’s top rated restaurant, despite never having served a single meal to a single customer. Similarly, Gary Usher – owner of North West restaurants Hispi, Burnt Truffle, Sticky Walnut and Wallfish – has revealed flaws in the ratings system, showing how easy it is for owners to maliciously reap rewards by creating positive reviews that are clearly false.

Can I opt out of TripAdvisor?

If you’re thinking of avoiding TripAdvisor altogether, the bad news is that you don’t have much choice in the matter. If you haven’t created your own listing on the site, it’s highly likely that a user or TripAdvisor itself has done so, as owners don’t need to be consulted before a webpage for a business is created.

Similarly, if you’ve found your business on TripAdvisor and want this to be removed, you might find this difficult. Guidelines state that unless a business is legitimately closed it can’t be deleted, even by its owner. TripAdvisor views this stance as transparent, and as a way to avoid manipulation by business owners; the alternative could result in listings being deleted, then re-uploaded, as a way to essentially remove negative reviews.

However, don’t despair, as even if you’re not too sure about the platform, there’s a good chance you can benefit from being listed on it. In fact, with over 85% of consumers now checking a restaurant’s TripAdvisor listing before booking a table, the site has fast become a valuable (and affordable) marketing tool for restaurants, pubs and hotels of all sizes. As the company’s Head of Restaurants Bertrand Jelensperger says; TripAdvisor, social media, and the internet in general is now a valuable “front window to the world” for your business.

waiter carrying burger and wedges in a restaurant

How do I list my business on TripAdvisor?

Although it’s likely that a user has already created a listing for your business, to get the maximum benefit out of the platform it’s a good idea to take ownership of this. This is a relatively easy – and most importantly, free – process and TripAdvisor have simple steps on how to do so here. Creating, or taking ownership of your listing will allow you to change details such as your opening hours, address, contact details and website, and also reply to user reviews. This ultimately presents the most up to date and relevant information about your restaurant to users, and allows you to take control of the narrative by responding to both positive and negative reviews.

It’s also recommended that you upload your own photos to your listing, whether these are images of your menu, your interiors, or of the great food you serve. Not only does this give you more control over the way the website presents your operation to the outside world, it’s also good marketing, with TripAdvisor stating that listings with photography see 44% more user interaction than those without. Not too confident in your camera skills? Don’t worry; our What’s Hot guide contains easy tips for restaurants looking take photography into their own hands.

Does TripAdvisor cost money?

Although anyone can create a standard listing, the site did launch a “TripAdvisor Premium” subscription service last year.  Whilst this won’t affect your reviews or overall ranking, a premium account does give access to a few features that may improve user interaction with your listing. These include the ability to highlight and pin “favourite” reviews and photos, add videos, and the ability to choose a cover photo that will permanently stay at the front of your business page. Paid users are also able to access the TripAdvisor analytics suite, which gives information on the number of users that have engaged with a listing, alongside competitor data.  

TripAdvisor says that its paid service gives restaurants an extra edge, stating for example that 90% of its users think having a video can positively influence their decision process. However, as Premium isn’t charged at a flat rate, and is calculated based on how many visitors your existing listing gets, you’ll need to decide whether you think the costs are worth the supposed rewards.

Hands cutting through steak with a knife in a dark restaurant

How should I use TripAdvisor?

Once you’re all set up, there are a few things you should bear in mind if you’re looking to get the most out of your listing.

Stay up to date

Firstly, it’s a good idea to make sure that your busiess page is as completed as possible. That means making sure your address and contact details are fully up to date, you have at least one (but preferably more) photographs on show and that if any of this does change the listing is updated promptly. It’s also worth tagging your listing with the cuisine or type of food served; that way, users searching for specific search terms – “Pub Food” or “Burger Restaurants” for example - within a given location, will be more likely to see your restaurant.

Keep active

Part of the attraction of TripAdvisor for its users is the fact that it is designed to be an active, interactive community. Providing they’re positive, if users see recent reviews on your listing this is likely to reflect better than if the most recent reviews were some time ago. To help keep your page active, you could reference to customers in store that you’re on the platform, and that you’d appreciate a review.

This doesn’t need to be explicitly stated – a simple sticker or logo in your window, on menus or marketing material, should be enough. Not only does this work as a helpful reminder, it also adds transparency, letting customers know that you’re happy to receive their feedback – whether positive, or negative.

Similarly, try to respond to as many reviews as possible in a polite and personalised manner. Whilst it might not be feasible to respond to every comment, a little goes a long way, and customers are likely to appreciate the effort and time you’ve taken to get back to them.

Young people sat round a restaurant table smiling and laughing

Remain positive

Although the news may be filled with acid tongued chefs and owners who’ve taken to TripAdvisor in their own unique way, responding to reviews in a sarcastic, humorous, or even passive aggressive manner isn’t likely to win you many favours, or customers, in the long run.

If despite all your best efforts and the hard work of your staff the worst does happen – the dreaded negative review – try to reply in a way that is prompt, friendly and professional. Although your response will obviously vary from case to case, it’s a good idea to issue an apology, an explanation, and an invitation back to the user so you can correct any mistakes. If you do feel the review really is unreasonable or malicious, then politely reply in a way that presents your view of events for other users to see. This way, if other users see your version of the situation, it’s unlikely that one bad review will have a lasting impact.

Log off

However, perhaps the best way to gain from TripAdvisor is to realise that the site alone isn’t the be all and end all. After all, whilst making your business look good online is one thing, presenting this to users in person is another. Although managing and controlling your own listing clearly has its benefits, you’ll only really win out if you carry on creating great tasting, value for money meals that will keep customers coming back again and again.

So, even though TripAdvisor can definitely help get new eyes on your business, it shouldn’t take away from the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, the great ingredients that go into each dish, and the relationships you have with customers in person. If you focus on this, you’re bound to rise up the ranks in no time.