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Getting it done on the Metro

So a few weeks ago, on a Tuesday afternoon, things were seeming fairly under control on the work front. Client check-ins had been accomplished, requests had been handed off to my developers, and I was feeling like I could slip away for a couple hours to visit The Secretary of the State of California.

The Secretary of State is of course up in Sacramento, but he also maintains an outpost in Los Angeles at 300 Spring Street.

I didn’t tell my clients or my developers that I was going anywhere. I had my trusty Apple device, and therefore they could contact me via email, text, Skype, Slack and yes even telephone.

So I dashed out the door and hopped on the Metro train to downtown Los Angeles.

As soon as I got onboard a client messaged with a question, and I called her and told her I was ‘working from public transit at the moment haha,’ but I had to hang up, because one of my developers popped up and needed a password reset for something.

As I was trying get that to him … DANG! The train went underground and I lost my signal, and the ability to communicate with humans other than fellow passengers in my immediate vicinity.

This is what my screen looked like as I repeatedly and unsuccessfully rushed to get the needed password reset before going underground.

Rushing is never the answer.

I got off the train near the Central Library. When I got up to the street level, I looked around for a place to sit down. I was determined to successfully accomplish work while running my errand.

There was a lot going on with people bustling every which way. There was a man who had taken up residence near the entrance to the station. He was casually eating the largest baloney sandwich I have ever seen. His earthly possessions were taking up a lot of space, and there were two horseback cops who seemed to know and like him, trying to deal with the situation of him blocking the busy sidewalk.

There was one quiet spot off to the side of the general melee. So I hurried over and sat down cross-legged on the ground, and tried to close out the world around me, to focus on my phone and the tasks at hand.

Another man suddenly appeared on the scene and started yelling as loud as he could at the cops: “HEY!!… IS THAT YOUR HORSE?” over and over again.

The answer seemed obvious because one cop was on his horse, and the other was standing right next to his horse.

The cops, passersby, the horses and the man eating the huge baloney sandwich all totally ignored the yeller.

At this point I noticed it kind of smelled like pee. EEK! I jumped up and to my extreme displeasure discovered that my pants were not wet, but at the same time they were not bone dry either. 🙁 🙁 🙁 .. I know! Pee!

But I had come this far and there was nothing I could do so I decided to soldier on.

After walking for a couple minutes and feeling fairly miserable, I realized that I was wearing work shoes unfriendly to walking more than short distances.

But again, I had come this far. It didn’t seem worth it to summon an Uber for a 10-minute walk. Plus it’s not like I could sit on anything. I’d have to kneel on the seat facing backwards or something. Also there was the potential to take photos of vintage signs and buildings and whatnot on the way.

The Alexander Hotel: halfway between the train station and the Cal S of S office.
The Alexandria Hotel: halfway between the train station and the Cal S of S office.

Finally! 300 Spring Street.

Now I had to get to the 12th floor.

Due to my unfortunate state, I wanted to ride the elevator alone. I pretended I was reading the building map on the wall to avoid getting in with a group.

At last I arrived at my destination.

I discovered that the Los Angeles Regional Office of the California Secretary of State is a lot like the waiting room of the Netherworld from Beetlejuice.

There were several very unusual looking people sitting in a row, just staring straight ahead. They paid me no attention. They seemed like they had been there awhile, and were not planning on going anywhere, anytime soon.

There was no one waiting at the counter, so I excitedly walked up with my paperwork ready to go!

I was promptly ignored by the several people working. hmmm

Then I noticed … aha!

Off to the side there was an old fashioned ‘take a number’ wheel dispenser thingie.

Although it was not attached to any kind of electronic system or anything, as soon as I pulled off a number, the civil servants sprang to life, (!) and one came over to help me.

He said “You are here to file for a name?” I said yes and gave him my already filled out paperwork.

He went away to check if I could have the name I wanted, and he came back just a few minutes later smiling either because he loves his job when he can make people happy, or because I smelled and this meant I would be leaving.

“Congratulations, you’re a corporation!”

“Awesome! .. what.. wait .. I’m trying to reserve a name and file for a LLC.”

“What!? That’s not what you said!”

“I didn’t’ say anything. Look at my forms, they are filled out for a LLC.”

“Well I filed you as a corporation. You can’t do a LLC from the regional office.”


“It’s by mail only. Did you read the instructions that came with the forms? It says that a corporation name can be reserved at the regional office, it does not say that for a LLC.”

He was so kind as to underline the word ‘corporation’ for me.
He was so kind as to underline the word ‘corporation’ for me.

“Well now what?”

“I will cancel your corporate status. Your filing fee will be refunded.”

“Great. Thanks. Can I have my forms back?”

“No. I signed and stamped them.”

“I’m not trying to steal a corporation from the state or something. Can you just cross it out, because I need to get this in the mail today, and if you read what I clearly requested on the form, you will see that I filled it out correctly, so can I please have it back?”

“No. But you may keep the instructions.”

Thoroughly dejected, I returned to the Metro and headed westbound on the train. By the time I got back home, I had a bloody foot from where my shoe had been rubbing against my heel. The afternoon was not going well.

There was a small package waiting for me on top of the mailbox. It looked like someone had dropped an anvil on it. When I picked it up it was clear that whatever was inside was shattered and broken.

But I didn’t have time to look because it was 4:43. I had to reprint and sign my forms and get them in the mail. I could have waited until the morning, but I was not about to sacrifice any part of another work day after this. Also, like The Blues Brothers, by this point I was on a somewhat irrational mission from God.

I dropped the box on the kitchen table, changed pants, put a flip-flop on my good foot, got my forms together again, found a stamp, crammed them in an envelope and rushed back out to the post office.

As I pulled up the mailbox was being emptied for the day. I made it!

But then a parking ticket patroller swooped in and took the spot where one can pull over and deposit mail. She could see me in her rearview mirror, and as I held up my hands like “What the heck!” she shrugged like “Sorry. A ticket must be given.”


So I parked in a red zone, and when I jumped out I yelled to her: “I’ll guess I’ll park here then!” Technically she was well within her right to ticket me. She did not.

I hopped/dragged my bloody foot the half block necessary, and handed my letter to the mail carrier.

Once back at the ranch I took a much needed and very hot shower, and then opened the smashed box. It contained a belated wedding present consisting of a handmade piece of pottery from some friends in St. Paul.

Mysteriously and amazingly the only piece of the pottery not shattered into tiny bits was painted with a likeness of Rob and me.

And look … we share a big, square, polka dot body!

Alta and Rob vessel.
I’m planning to have it mounted on a stand, like a fragment from antiquity in a museum!

I love it. When I opened the box however, I was not in the mood to look at the brightside. As I was standing there, Rob messaged to say he was on the way home, and I sent back something along the lines of:

“Hi Pooh.. guess what happened? I tried to go downtown on the train and file for my business and I thought I could still do work too and I sat in a spot that had been peed on on the sidewalk and I wore the wrong shoes and the Secretary of State employee took my forms and I can’t do what I needed to at the office anyway and I have a bloody foot so I can’t go for walk tonight or maybe ever again who knows and the meter maid is evil for no good reason and Kerry and Gordon sent us the nicest present and it got totally shattered in the mail and I have NO IDEA if my business name is available and I don’t know when they will tell me and at this rate I will never become a LLC and nothing can be done!!!!!!”

When he arrived home he had a box of assorterd-colors heel bandages and ointment, which made life totally worth living again.


AND! Just over one-and-a-half weeks later on Halloween…

My faith in the system, civil servants, the state of California, the Great Pumpkin and in the universe in general was restored.

I got a letter from the Secretary with a seal and everything which said I can have the name I want, and that my paperwork is being processed. So starting in January I’ll be a LLC, which is super cool.

Also I have my New Year’s resolution at the ready: No more ridiculous iPhone multitasking.

It could have been a much simpler process if I was not rushing and multitasking for no reason, or if I was the type of person who reads instructions thoroughly. And really it was just mailing off a letter, but it felt like the culmination of my fifteen-plus-year career so far. Literal blood, sweat and tears.

And it seems like this is how things so often move forward. Drag-hopping to the mailbox at 4:59. I got it done.

listicle factoids for you

3.5 Factoids About Listicles

Factoid 1. Listicles Are Here to Stay

listicle factoids for youAlthough lists have been around since before the 7 Wonders of the World and the 7 Deadly Sins, list-style articles sprang forth out of nowhere and took over the web just a few years ago.

It would appear that the listicle is not a passing fad — they continue to be everywhere. Our brains make us click on them because lists give us a sense of potential order and easy understanding. Listicles are just so dang irresistible and work so well at getting people to click our way.

Listicles are going to be staying around awhile.

Factoid 2. Listicles Are Totally Lame

Due to their ubiquity and general reputation as brain fluff, there’s been much lamenting over listicles as yet another sign of the fall of western civilization.

New Yorker: 10 Paragraphs about lists you need in your life right now.

As the article implies, (as does the word “listicle” itself) the vast majority of the 75 billion listicles out there are quite lame and totally pointless. Most listicles are just a regurgitation of a bunch of other lists. They also typically don’t have quality or accurate info, and are not funny or entertaining either! 🙁

I googled “limitations of listicles” and “listicles about listicles” and I clicked on probably 15 posts. I scanned most in under ten seconds and then moved on.

I thought the 10 worst things about listicles was funny. At least the author put a little thought into it.

If people click on your post due to a catchy headline then and repeatedly leave right away, search engines will make note and demote your post in search rankings.

It really should go without saying:

Like everything else you publish, your listicles must not be lame. Listicles should be unique, useful and high quality.

Factiod 3. You Should Write Listicles

So listicles get people to click and I try to write them sometimes, although I’m not great at them.

I recently kind of wrote a listicle about infographics, but it has just two items listed, so I’m not sure it counts, especially since another factoid is that people are way more likely to click on odd-numbered listicles with around 29 items.

Bonus Factiod 3.5 One really good thing to do in your listicles is link to other pages on your site within the post.

Alta Peterson: Make a Google-friendly website

Always give readers an easy way to find out more about you and your services or products. It’s just good common sense really! xo

Infographic: How to cook eggs. Personalized for the user.

Infographics: 2 Steps To Stand Out From The Crowd

egg crackingBoy oh boy … Infographics are everywhere. All the social platforms that were not already image oriented a year ago have gotten a lot more so.

People love infographics because they can get tasty tidbits of info into their overstimulated brains with minimal effort. Also they’re fun to share on social media.

Most infographics are focused on graphic design rather than on the message itself, or the person who will be using the info.

You can make your infographics much more effective and share-worthy by focusing on the content, and then targeting a single individual as your audience.

Step 1: Focus on the information rather than just on the visual design.

Think about the data you want to convey and how to best visualize it for maximum clarity.

Let me take you back in time to the year 2000…

I was working as an account exec at an ad agency by day, but going to school by night to realize my true dream of being a designer.

I lived with my friend Randy, who is a talented data analyst among other things. He owned the classic trilogy of books on information design by Edward Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations.

Tufte is the world’s foremost charts-and-graphs expert, and I was highly intrigued by these books. Allow me to share a few of my fave Tufte quotes:

“Design cannot rescue failed content.”

“Above all else show the data.”

“Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.”

― Edward R. Tufte

Around this time our mutual friend Rob moved in with us. Rob was always stuck doing dishes in our household due to the fact that he could not cook anything at all.

That’s the backstory for the creation of my very first infographic, which I made in design school using Adobe Illustrator.

My aim was to stay focused on the information, and how to best make it visually accessible for maximum usefulness.

Infographic: How to cook eggs. Personalized for the user.

I got an “A+” and proudly displayed the chart on our fridge, where it was most likely to influence my intended target audience.

Step 2: Target your infographic to a real individual or a persona. This communicates that you are focused on people’s individual needs.

A few months ago I was searching YouTube for new web and marketing videos, and I came across a good talk about the User-Centered approach, and creating personas. It referenced the latest overhaul of the Amazon.com site.

Amazon had the common problem of feeling that their site should be ‘for everyone,’ and that everyone is a potential user and customer.

This approach invariably leads to impersonal, unfocused and ineffective products, design and marketing. So they created just a couple specific personas and built the whole site around them. (It was hailed a smashing success.)

The same powerful concept can apply to all your content including infographics.

If you have a favorite or desired user/client/customer you can use them, as I did with Rob’s Egg Cookin’ chart. If not, create a persona. Don’t be afraid to name them and flesh them out with as much detail as possible. It’s totally corny.. but it really works!

Taking customizing to a ‘target audience’ one step further to true individual personalization is on the forefront of digital design and marketing. It’s a big reason that Google, Facebook and every platform and app out there wants to gather and control our data.

A great example is Coca-Cola’s “share a coke” bottles emblazoned with people’s names. Thousands upon thousands of selfies have been posted to social media showing someone holding up a coke with their own name on it. More and more creative examples of personalized marketing are springing up all the time.

Your infographics can be incredibly powerful when you think about the individual behind your faceless “user” or “target audience.”

You don’t need to get a degree in advertising, study information design and visualizing data and then go to design school like I did. Just ask yourself:

Who is the person I’m making this infographic for? Who do I want them to be? What is my infographic supposed to help them do or understand?

For the record my egg chart did indeed help me to stand out from the crowd.

Rob and I eventually got married, and although I cook all his eggs, and he still does all the dishes, he says the chart kept him alive back when we were still ‘just friends.’

If you would like your very own customizable egg cookin’ chart, please click the image below for a printable pdf.

I suggest you glue a photo of that special someone to one blank corner, and add a personalized message to the other.

Customizable Infographic: How to Cook Eggs

Yoast Plugin for WordPress 101

A Google-friendly website can lead to riches and world domination!


Learn to write for the Web with WordPress and the fabulous Yoast SEO Plugin.

In my previous post I attempted to impress upon you the need to understand how to write for the web.

Inquisitive types may now be wondering:

Yeah sure okay fine … I need to write quality content for actual people, which is also designed for indexing by search engines but …

How do I know if my web page is optimized for Google and other search engines?

I am so glad you asked.

If you have a self-hosted (that’s the fancy, fully-customizable version) WordPress site, you can install the FREE Yoast SEO plugin and it will literally show you how to write for the web.

A plugin is a piece of software that can be added (plugged in) to a WordPress site in order to extend functionality.

I love this plugin. It’s a very powerful tool for making a Google-friendly website.

Once you install the plugin on your site, the editing section of each page/post will have a multi-tabbed window where you can enter various keywords, and see how well your page is optimized for those words and phrases.

My post is rated as “good” for the search phrase “How to write for the web,” which is no surprise since that’s the title of the post.

Yoast SEO is good for this post.

The text in your links and in your text headers is the most important text, and you can think of the title of your page/post as the most important link and the most important text header on any given page/post.

Writing a page/post title using the actual phrase potential customers or desired readers might use, such as How to find the best web design firm in Los Angeles, can be a simple yet powerful technique in connecting with the right people.

As you can see in the screenshot below of the general tab of the plugin, my prior post is well rated for “How to write for the web” even though the actual phrase isn’t in the body copy.

The plugin recommends I consider adding the phrase “how to write for the web” to the body copy so the search engine will feel even more confident that the page is about that topic.

Yoast SEO for WordPress Learn to write for the web

But as we know, if I include my phrase too many times, it may be seen as “keyword stuffing,” and therefore my page may be demoted or not shown in the search results.

The page analysis tab of the plugin is also quite exciting!

Yoast Analysis for WordPress Learn to write for the web
It tells you specific things you could do to improve the page/post for a particular word or phrase.

One easy thing I can do is add an alt-tag to any images within the post.

Alt-tag text should be between 5 and 15 words. I like to think of it as a tweet that tells any non-visual readers — whether human or search engine — what the image contains.

The alt-tag text for the image above is “Yoast Analysis for WordPress Learn make a Google friendly site.” It’s an accurate description, and it contains the phrase “Learn to make a Google friendly site.”

The plugin also gives the readability of my writing a rating using the Flesch–Kincaid readability standard.

As search engines become ever more sophisticated in their goal of providing the best results for any search conducted, more and more factors need to be considered. Web marketing is a moving target.

As for the post you’re reading right now, the Yoast plugin informs me that the post title is too long. In this instance I’ve decided I’m okay with that. If you know the rules, once in awhile you can break them.

Yoast warning that my post title is too long.

This post just scratches the surface of all the amazingly helpful things the Yoast SEO plugin can do. I strongly recommend you check it out and start learning how to use your web presence to achieve your goals, impress your friends and vanquish your enemies.


How to write for the web.

Opinions on how best to write for the web are abundant and ever-evolving, but the bottom line is this:

The actual words and phrases that people use in searches are still a huge part of how the search engine knows to connect you with the right people, which is always its primary goal.

This has lead to the widespread practice of “keyword stuffing” and writing for the search engine instead of the human reader as seen on this Domino’s page, which I landed on recently from the search “Domino’s Coupons.” (Yay pizza!)

Google tells us not to stuff keywords into our text, and you can see why. The text is awkward with the word “coupon” being used fourteen times, and the word “Domino’s” used twelve times in just a couple paragraphs.


However it’s worth noting that this is the page I landed on from the Google search I conducted!

How many times a word is used does matter. You do need to think about what words and phrases people are using to get to your site and incorporate them into your text.

So should you write clunky copy like in the Domino’s link for the benefit of the search engine?


You need to write high-quality copy for the human reader as the abundant keyword approach is quickly moving from “outdated though still sometimes effective” to “officially somewhat shady.”

The rule is always follow web best practices and webmaster guidelines, and be rewarded in the long run.

To paraphrase what Google sayeth:

“Use natural, readable text and drop the ridiculous number of keywords as it’s really not necessary, and is increasingly frowned upon.”

Some things in the Domino’s example are still seen as effective and good practice. For example the header text includes the words and phrases “Deals at Domino’s,” and “Coupons Online From Dominos.com.”

The words and phrases in your your text headings are understood to be more important automatically by Google if you design your web page correctly. The same goes double for the text in your links.

• Pay extra attention to the words and phrases in your headings and links.


• Social media connectedness and other more sophisticated means of page ranking, along with site speed and responsiveness to all types of devices, are steadily becoming more important.

• Doing what you can to make your site accessible to all human users, including adding quality alt-tags to your images for vision-impaired users, is if anything more important than ever.

• Keep in mind that Google maintains its dominance as Internet Overlord by providing the best quality results for any search a person enters. Be quality.

While you have to be aware of how the Internet works when writing for the web, your site will literally be seen as more authoritative overall (a good thing!) in the eyes of Google if you focus on the human reader.

My advice as always is to take an ongoing approach to investing in your web presence. You have to publish quality content regularly to be competitive online. This is more and more the case every day.

Sorry if I made you want a pizza. At least I provided a link to coupons.

Should you use WordPress.org or WordPress.com?

To self-host or not to self-host .. that is the question …

This post assumes you know the general difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org/self-hosted sites. If you don’t the links at the bottom discuss.

You can redirect a custom domain that you own to get rid of the “wordpress.com” in your URL which looks more professional. You can do this with tumblr, Gooogle Blogger and various other services as well.

More and more people are figuring this out and are wondering “Why should I go with a self-hosted site when WordPress.com is free and I can redirect my URL to look more professional so what’s the dif?”

Read more