A recent article in USA Today, "How can you tell which TripAdvisor reviews to trust?", offers some of the same specific strategies that we use when checking out hotels and restaurants on "the world's most popular travel site."
We do look for places that are high in the ratings but we don't worry too much about who's in the Number 1 spot. Some of the rankings are hard to fathom but the article claims that they're based at least in part on the number of recent reviews.
A visit to any establishment with fewer than 10-20 reviews is a complete risk that may pay off... or not. We throw out the highest and lowest reviews, and we look for general themes in the contents, whether positive or negative.
One point the article doesn't mention: Maybe it's because we're retired teachers, but any review that's poorly written or full of spelling errors loses credibility with us. For the same reason, when writing the very occasional review ourselves, we proof read to make sure we're not making any obvious misteaks.
Whenever possible, we'll also check out other sites for reviews and comments, but there's no question that "40 million reviews and opinions, most of them directed at 450,000 lodgings worldwide," leads us to peruse TA regularly.
Incidentally, A British outfit is threatening to sue TA for "defamatory comments" on behalf of a number of tourist establishments and it will certainly be interesting to see how that unfolds.