I'm sure I'm not the only one that sometimes goes onto TripAdvisor to look for a hotel and comes away with a slack jaw and a horrified look. There are lots of stories out there, some–I'm sure–that should be taken with a grain (or bucket) of salt. There are also reviews that are so glowing that they either come from 1) a bot/paid human or 2) someone who has never, ever stayed in a hotel before.
In other words, there are lots of reviews to avoid.
But, there is also plenty to learn from TripAdvisor. In fact, it's one of the key ways I typically choose a hotel, no matter where we are going. You can't let it overwhelm you–you don't want to come away with "there is absolutely no where to stay everything is dirty the food is always horrible and the rooms always smell". Here is how I sort through reviews to make an informed decision:
1. Find reviewers like you. Writing says a lot about a person. When someone gushes on and on about how great a staff member was, with things like "hun" or "sweetie" or "hugs", I know that we have different tastes. Same for reviewers who only review all-inclusives in major resort cities: different expectations, different styles. Check and see where else the reviewer has reviewed. Read into the tone and word choice. If you think "I could have written that" you are a lot more likely to find the review useful and true to your perspective.
2. Disregard low reviews for things that don't matter to you. I have seen 2 star reviews at 4-5 star hotels for things like "had to wait for 10 minutes in reception" or "hotel restaurant service was slow". These things don't bother me, so unless there was something else negative in the review, I pretty much ignore them. Plus, if this was the worst thing they have to report, then, well, I'm guessing the property otherwise was pretty decent.
3. Prioritize things you can't live without. For example, my main stickler is cleanliness. And mainly the bed and bathroom. So if I see trends of "dirty sheets" or "hair in shower", well, count me out. I often scan pages of 1-3 star reviews just to see if these are amongst the complaints. If they aren't, then I know the 1-3 star reviews probably don't present a dealbreaker for me.
4. Check out the traveler photos. This is good policy, because the stock photos will almost always look delightful. There are really important things you can learn from these–like when "beachfront" means you can maybe see a single palm tree on the shore. Plus, people are great about posting photos of overflowing toilets, cockroaches, and the like. I might let a cockroach slide if it was a ground floor room in a tropical location, but documented sewage incidents definitely make me think twice, no matter the hotel rating.
5. Keep your eyes open for comparisons. One of the most helpful thing as a reader is to see a comparison to something you know/like. I.e. "not as nice as the Four Seasons" or "like a Fairfield Inn" provides a good reference point. Depending on why I'm traveling, I can use these comparisons to help make an educated decision on property, particularly based on a price point.
Do you use TripAdvisor? How do you sort through the reviews to find what you need to know to make an education decision?