Dear Terre Haute

Dear Terre Haute,

You’d like your mojo back. So you built a new

I spoke a little about your new website on Facebook last week. Today, I saw this story in the Tribune Star:

“…it’s been ages since “swagger” and “Terre Haute” fit into the same sentence. A new project aims to reconnect the two. The Haute Initiative, unveiled last week, is developing the website into a hub of information and videos highlighting community assets easily overlooked by locals, former locals, occasional visitors and  curious outsiders.”

Like I said in my video, I think your website says a lot. It says things like:

  • “We have no web professionals in Vigo County. That’s why we paid a guy a few hundred dollars to do it on Wix.” OR
  • “We have no web professionals in Vigo County. That’s why someone volunteered to do this for cheap on Wix.” OR (worse)
  • “We got swindled out of too much money to have this done on Wix.”
  • “We assume no one in Vigo County has ever heard of Google, Yelp, Facebook recommendations, or the Internet.”
  • “We can’t understand why people don’t like things here more, so we thought if we put them in a list it would help.”

In fact, later in the story one of your city’s leaders, who I’m sure is a stand-up guy, says:

“At Tuesday’s announcement, Patterson likened the revitalized website to a 20th-century listing in the phone book, as an essential access point.”

This is not a good thing.

When I was working my first job at the Washington County Historical Society, we’d wonder why more people didn’t stop in. Salem has a great genealogy museum and historical artifacts from the county. I mean that: it’s a great place and one of the county’s best assets.

But I’d bet more than 60% of the county residents didn’t know it was there. A website doesn’t fix that in a county with poor Internet service, low literacy rates, and high poverty. Our biggest source of customers were travelers stopping at points nearby and picking up a brochure. History buffs seeing points of interest near the Lewis and Clark trail, or Civil War incursions, or unwrapping regional history. That sort of thing.

If you survey any business in 12 months and ask, “Did drive more traffic to your site, or to your bottom line?” The answer will be no.

You must recognize you’re competing with Google and Yelp. People have a job to do: “Let’s take the kids somewhere”, “Can we find a place for breakfast before we head to Indy or Chicago?”, “Can we find a little league team for our daughter?” This site does nothing to answer that. You’re not getting their job done.

It’s not enough to list pizza joints. We need to know which ones are good, open now, can seat six. Your site can’t do that because it’s either entirely or mostly government-sponsored and can’t have an opinion.

It’s not enough to list a bunch of sports teams. You just pushed a homework assignment on to parents who have to call all those coaches. Not only are you asking people to switch mediums (web to phone), you’re not helping them in the moment. If it’s 10 pm on a Friday night, I can’t call any of those people.  You’re not helping the teams, either, who often struggle with sites of their own.

Amazon wouldn’t be Amazon if you had to call a vendor during business hours to buy a new toaster.

There’s no search function. No other function accomplishes something. Remember, people have a job to do.

I’m guessing this problem is contagious because is the same phone-book style homework assignment. There’s no way to report a pothole (a primary function of local government websites).

At least 45%, probably closer to 55%, and maybe as high as 65% of your website visitors will be on mobile devices. Your site isn’t mobile-friendly. That’s tragic. But that’s Wix.

List most directories, you risk having an outdated site. Most businesses aren’t going to be keen on promoting a website that lists their competitors, either. Yelp is promoted, but that’s because restaurant owners want the reviews. Because Yelp helps people get a job done and businesses have to play to that.

So what should a tourism site do?

  • Focus on neighborhood stories. Every city has neighborhoods and districts known for things. Google spent a lot of time highlighting these on Maps. You can tell us why (because Google can’t. Yet.).
  • Speak more about culture. A black friend of mine once said he never stops in Terre Haute because he doesn’t know where the good black-owned restaurants are. He needs culture-fit.
  • Speak up for the little guy if you’re going to list every business. Toss in farm stands, small neighborhood markets, artists, solopreneurs, and festivals.
  • Fix your “Things To Do” link. It doesn’t go anywhere. If you’re going to direct it to the homepage, call it “Home”.
  • Fix the SSL certificate on the event embed listing. It fails on Firefox 57.
  • No one cares about the weather widget. If I’m a tourist, I need to know the weather this weekend, not right now. And if I’m standing in your city, I know what the weather is!
  • Profile residents in video and in text.
  • If you’re going to keep the directory, at least make a map. Anyone standing on the street looking at this site is going to get angry with it. You’re pushing people to drive.
  • Enable user-submitted photos. Then curate them to be a gallery of some real gems. Why there’s no Instagram here is curious.
  • Allow people to sort by cost and time. Terre Haute isn’t New York. People who are traveling through need to know what they’re in for. And it can help you accommodate luxury spending and budget spending.
  • You’re in a dangerous position piggy-backing off They do a much better job of giving details and letting me get tickets. Either be prepared to compete or merge.

This site has been online a week.  If you’re involved with this project, like as a City Councilor, ask yourself this: “Have I looked at this site and made plans I didn’t already have yet?”

About the author

Justin Harter

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