What My Kid Taught Me About Being a Better Adult 

This summer I got the chance to take my kid to Kennywood Park, an iconic, All-American amusement park just outside of Pittsburgh.

A lot has changed about the park over the years. Some of the older rides are gone, making way for newer, faster, more thrilling experiences. The park is a little bigger these days. And sure, everything is way more expensive than I remember from previous visits growing up in the area.

Still, the place has retained enough of its character to create a strong impression on someone, especially a young kid. There’s a constant buzz of excitement in the air that hits you the moment you enter the park. The place has a unique, unmistakable smell — a mixture of cotton candy, Potato Patch fries, flowers from the park’s gardens and axle grease on the roller coaster’s rails.

I was standing with my son in line for Noah’s Ark, a great old funhouse-style walkthrough attraction for perhaps the ninth time that day when I witnessed something really amazing.

As little boys tend to do in a slow-moving line, mine writhed, shimmied, bobbed and swung on the end of my arm. Just ahead of us in line, another little boy roughly my son’s age was similarly attached to a father of his own and squirming just as much. And all at once, the boys saw each other and stopped.

“I like your face paint,” my son says, complimenting the little boy’s Hulk makeup with great and genuine excitement.

“Thanks, I like yours too,” the boy ahead replied, praising my kid’s Spiderman makeup.

The conversation rolls on for a good 10 minutes, these two learning about each other, until they’ve got a bunch of the important stuff figured out like names and hometowns and more stuff about Super Heroes that goes over my head.

And then we’re crowding into the beginning of the funhouse and the lights go down. The boys are standing next to each other, when my son’s new buddy says, “Here we go.” My kid responds in a curt affirmative, the experienced response of someone who’s been on the thing half a dozen times.

Throughout the experience, the boy and his dad are ahead of us, but the little boy is urging his dad to “wait, let them catch up.” When we walk out into the light after it’s all over, my kid is waving goodbye to his new friend, someone there’s no chance he’ll ever see again, and I find myself strangely sad the whole experience is over.

For whatever reason, I think a lot about this brief summer moment.

I think about a total stranger opening a conversation with another equally total stranger in a positive manner. I think about how such a moment started between two strangers and the words “I like your…”

I think about how the boys had nothing to gain from each other and still remained so friendly. I think about how it played out and find it pretty odd that both the adults involved — us two dads — treated the kind and friendly exchange as strange.

I think there’s a lot everyone can learn from the way kids talk to each other and how it can apply to how we can treat people we don’t know. We can have a real, genuine interest in people. We can make friends and have those friendships benefit us as adults. We can rethink strangers and recognize them for what they are — people, just like us.

If we apply some of these childlike principles to our daily lives, it could make us all better adults.

We Can Take Genuine Interest in Other People

When I think about the first thing came out of my kid’s mouth when he addressed a total stranger, I get hung up on the fact that it was complimentary. He could’ve said nothing at all or complained of how long the wait was for the ride. Instead, he saw someone like him and saw something he felt compelled to tell him.

My son’s genuine interest in the other boy’s face paint was so strong that he needed to tell him — even if he was a total stranger.

There are some adults that have this genuine interest thing down, too. My cousin Keith, a teacher in Grand Rapids, MI, is one of them.

Aside from being an amazing teacher, he’s an expert conversationalist, and in addition to listening intently to each and every word he hears from someone, he expresses real interest in the words they use.

Keith is the kind of person that should deliver every piece of bad news ever. If he was to tell you that the Apocalypse was imminent, you’d probably think, “Huh, you know, that actually doesn’t sound all that bad.”

Having a conversation with Keith is like being interviewed by a reporter who believes he is writing a feature story about the best person in the entire world.

It’s only after the conversation has ended that you realize just how little you know about Keith, which means you spent 90% of the conversation revealing details about yourself. To be clear, he could’ve been the best salesperson in Michigan — perhaps the country — but his calling was teaching so there he went.

Talking to people is an art form for Keith, but it’s not because he’s trying to sell you something. Keith cares about people. He takes an intense interest in people and genuinely enjoys getting to know them, which has translated into a huge group of loyal friends and close, reliable professional contacts.

In his 1929 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie spent a good bit of time talking about the important of taking a genuine interest in people and how it relates to being successful.

Whether you’re meeting people for the first time or catching up with your best friend, these are tips you can use to make sure you’re being a better human being.

Make Sure Your Greeting is Memorable

Plastering a smile on your face, however impossible it might seem sometimes, is the first step in making sure your meeting is enjoyable with someone. In Carnegie’s book, he says you “must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”

Use (and Remember) the Person’s Name

A name is vital to someone and remembering that name is critical in business, social settings, wherever. Forgetting someone’s name is akin to saying they aren’t worth remembering in the first place. If you need help, check out this really useful article.

Listen with Genuine Interest

Imagine this: You’re at a party and you meet someone for the first time who is a friend of a friend. You get to talking and eventually stumble upon that fact that you both share an interest in some obscure movie. Or maybe you both like some rare album or cutting-edge TV show.

What happens? You point at each other and start freaking out. You smile so wide it hurts and say, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one!” When we take genuine interest in people — in the things they enjoy — it puts a lot of points on the plus side of our “likeability” chart.

Ask Questions


A really great way to let the person you’re talking to know you’re interested (and to keep the air out of the conversation) is to ask questions. It gives you a foothold in the exchange — something to build from — and keeps the other person talking.

Offer Genuine Compliments

Everyone likes to be praised for what they do, so do it often. Let people know the things you like about them, whether it’s something they do or something they’ve accomplished.

We Can Make Real Friends and Have Real Friendships

I have 1,347 connections on LinkedIn — a low number relative to the company I keep. When it comes to true friends, however, I only need to count on one hand and I can come up with the number.

Every year around Memorial Day, we all get together and hang out in Somerset County, just outside of Pittsburgh. In the summer, we get all head down to Deep Creek, MD, and spend a week together. Most of us have kids now so they play together. My few pals that are single enjoy it all as well. I feel pretty lucky to have those friends and wouldn’t trade them for all of my LinkedIn connections, with the exceptions of buddies who are also linked up with me.

But what is it about having friends that is so important?

Huffington Post columnist, noted psychologist, and published author Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes a lot about friendship and why it’s important. She says as kids, having friends helps us start our learning process and as teens, it helps us shape our romantic bonds later in life. But Krauss Whitbourne points out some pretty significant upsides to having friends as adults.

  • Friends can give you a reality check.
  • You’re less lonely when you have friends.
  • Friends can help you define your priorities.

In his book Transform, Jeff Haden talks a lot about happiness. He points out pretty well the things that make us unhappy as well, in vivid, arresting detail. One of the things he says that leads to unhappiness is that “we have no one to call at 3 a.m.”

Thinking about that kind of statement and finding it to be true can be a pretty depressing thought. Conversely, it can be really satisfying to have piece of mind that someone will pick up the phone in the middle of the night if things get really bad.

Haden points to insecurity as the armor that shields us from having real friends and, consequently, makes us lonely. Insecurities are learned as we get older, so as kids it’s pretty easy to make friends — just like my kid did with his buddy in line for the funhouse.

Just think about the friendships we could make if we cut the insecurities out of our lives.

We Can Learn to Not Be So Afraid of Strangers

Doing conferences is pretty brutal and the one I was doing about three months ago in Cleveland was no different.

I was standing outside the city’s main conference center after a pretty long day on the show floor. My throat was the kind of dry and scratchy you get from talking to people non-stop for eight hours. I was parked three blocks away and had my booth in its case by my side. I was not looking forward to the walk to the parking garage, let alone the three-hour drive home.

I was tired and I don’t mind saying a bit cranky. Standing next to me was Mark Meisel, a colleague of mine and, at that moment, the polar opposite of my bad mood.

Mark makes his living in sales, but the thing you need to know about him is he makes friends everywhere he goes. Mark is easily the most popular guy anywhere he goes — industry conference, restaurant, dentist’s office. Mark has a way of pulling you into a conversation and capturing your imagination. At conferences, he’s the guy who everyone can’t wait to see. He fills the booth with smiling customers and keeps everyone laughing.

In fact, Mark creates this kind of company wherever he goes. It’s a thing of beauty and not everyone can do it, but Mark certainly can.

So we’re standing outside the conference center and guy in a business suit crosses our path. He’s obviously heading home from a long day at work.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Mark pipes up.

“Not to bad, how about yourself?” the stranger said flatly, slowing his walk and gazing back.

“Looking forward to relaxing after a long day,” Mark says after him.

“You and me both,” the stranger says. At this point, the guy has stopped and is turned to us, smiling wide. “Going to enjoy a cold beverage.”

“Ah man, that sounds amazing,” Mark says. “You have yourself a lovely afternoon.”

“You too,” the stranger says.

Now, this entire exchange between two strangers was wholly unnecessary. It could’ve been avoided altogether if both Mark and the stranger had, as we nearly always do, stared hard into the concrete in front of us and minded our own business. Mark never had to say anything to the man and, in nearly any situation, the guy probably wouldn’t waste a breath on a stranger.

Still, the eight-sentence exchange made the three of us smile and everyone felt better from experience. I don’t remember what the stranger looked like exactly, but the experience was memorable enough that I talk about it today.

The strange thing about the experience is normally we’re convinced that talking to strangers is something we should avoid. From a very early age, we’re taught not to talk to strangers and that makes total sense because children are vulnerable.

But when that blanket idea pervades someone’s adulthood, it can be damaging. We distrust strangers — nearly all of them — to the point where we avoid meeting new people. For whatever reason, we avoid eye contact with strangers and in no way will we engage someone we don’t know in conversation.

The common-sense security that keeps the car doors locked, windows latched, and doors dead-bolted pervades our adults lives, workplaces and social settings, forcing us to bottle up our interactions with others.

Kids will connect with kids for nearly any reason, including something as simple as a vague shared interest. They’ll start a conversation and moments later are friends.

We don’t necessarily have to greet every person we see on the street — that could lead to disaster. But we could certainly be a little less cold to each other, perhaps if only to create a memory that will last. Or, at the very least, we can brighten someone’s day.

I think back a lot on the moment in line with my kid. I’m happy to have witnessed a moment like that in being a dad.

I think what sticks with me the most, though, is how the adults in that situation — myself and the other dad — just shook our heads at the whole affair. It seems disappointing now that we just couldn’t understand what was happening and treated it like something out of the ordinary. And I think about how as they gets older, our sons will grow to distrust one another and avoid trying to connect with each other so easily.

I think about how lucky my kid would be to retain some of those traits that made it so easy to make a quick friend on a warm summer day. I think about how much better we could be if we all tried to be a little like that.

Ian Blyth writes at ianblyth.com/blog, which is appropriate.

More from me:

3 Amazing Ways to Write Killer Headlines

First, let me get something out of the the way as quickly as possible: if you’re reading this, it’s because the headline I crafted worked exactly as it was intended.

And even now, after all the research and writing, I’m still not 100% comfortable with crafting that kind of headline. I am, however, fully convinced in the science behind writing engaging headlines to convince readers to click.

Let me back up a bit and explain what got me interested in headlines.

I’ve had many memorable teachers in my time, but one that always sticks out was my first journalism teacher.

This teacher spent a better part of his life as a beat reporter and editor before landing at Slippery Rock University as an instructor. He was a veteran news man to say the least. All the years he’d spent as a reporter, all the police calls, house fires, board meetings and cats rescued from trees, had made him a quietly imposing character.

His face seemed to be etched rather roughly out of some kind of ancient stone. He spoke confidently but sternly like a father does to a child through a thick, grizzled beard. When he asked you a question, it was an unnerving situation because he’d stare at you in such a way that made you feel like he was not only judging your answer but the way you were delivering it.

He looked like he’d seen it all and if he hadn’t witnessed it firsthand, he’d had it explained to him for a story.

He was tough and stern. He didn’t have time for nonsense. He’d fail you outright if you misspelled a name or did not follow the AP style guide to the letter.

Needless to say, I loved the guy.

The one time I ever saw anything even remotely close to a grin on the old man’s face was when we discussed headlines. My teacher wanted to share his favorite. He pulled a faded New York Post from 1983 from his weathered leather satchel and displayed the front page it proudly to the class.

In huge block letters standing tall across the page was perhaps the most clever and disturbing thing I’d ever seen in my life. And while it’s morbid for sure and deals with someone’s very unfortunate end, it’s still the best headline I’ve ever seen in my life.

That’s an extremely gruesome, graphic set of words in stunning block letters.

Despite its borderline tasteless nature, it correctly paints a picture of New York City in the 80’s, which was spiraling into an abyss of crime and chaos.  And while it sure does deal with human suffering with striking and stunning simplicity, it also goes down in history as one of the most popular headlines ever written.

The headline of an article or blog post is the first impression your reader will get, so you have to make it count. The headline is the thing that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them want to read your work. A boring — or worse yet, irrelevant — headline will have your readers skipping your entire article.

Just think of what that means for all the hard work you put into your writing. You find the perfect pictures to tell your story and spend hours typing away. You use the best pull quotes — the ones that really drive the point home — and in the end, readers skipped your article in its entirety because your headline doesn’t grab their attention.

Here are some pretty insightful statistics around headlines:

  • On average, 8 in 10 people will read your headlines, while only 2 in 10 will ever actually click through to the article. (copyblogger)
  • Traffic can vary as much as 500% because of a headline. (SEOMoz)
  • Readers tend to read the first three and last three words of a headline more than anything, meaning length counts considerably (Buffer)

Still need convincing that headlines are important? Try this.

Go search “How to Write the Perfect Headline” in Google. You’ll get over 14 million results on the subject. Even the top two results are written by the same guy — social media expert Neil Patel.

Patel makes a pretty bold suggestion in that “half the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive copy should be spent on the headline.” Even if you do end up blazing through 2,000 words in 2 hours — as Patel suggests you can do — that means you should spend at least an hour pondering the headline.

Let’s just agree that headlines are pretty important, even for first impressions.  So what should we be doing with headlines?

Here’s What You Should Do With Headlines

1. Pick a Format and Refine It

There are so many opinions on the types of headlines out there. People way smarter than me have written exhaustively on the different types of headlines and how they work. I don’t go as far as most. I just stick to some pretty standard (and tested) formats.

And trust me, if you’re new to this, don’t get discouraged. If you’re trying to hone your headline-writing skills and looking to improve, you’re headed in the right direction.

Question Headlines
Example: “What Impact Do Negative in Headlines Have on Click-Through?”

These headlines work so well because they entice the reader to know the answer, thus forcing the click.

Research from TrackMavens found that in an analysis of over a million blog posts, nearly 95% of the headlines did not contain a question mark. The other 5% of headlines that did, however,  accounted for over 46% of social shares for that particular data set.

That’s a huge number — and one worth considering.  So it’s obvious that posing a question to your audience is worth considering — especially if it will benefit your click-through potential.

How-To Headlines
Example: “How to Craft the Blog Post for Free”

This type of headline is a personal favorite of mine. In its makeup, the headline promises to teach the reader how to do something. It’s an educational promise that the writer is making with the audience.

Numbered List Headlines
Example: 5 Absurd (But Mind-Blowing) Pop Culture Conspiracy Theories

This is the big one — the headline that started it all.

There’s an inherent need for us click on headlines with numbers in them. In “The Science Behind High-Performing Headlines” on crazyegg.com, Sherice Jacob points out how Buzzfeed has made a killing on these types of headlines in the past, citing research that shows how numbered headlines outperform all others.

In fact, there’s science behind why as humans, we’re attracted to headlines with large numbers — that’s why Buzzfeed avoids using numbers below 10 in its headlines.

But the best early example of success with these headlines (and outstanding content) came from cracked.com. Cracked.com had delivered some of most interesting, intense, and engaging content in the past 10 years. Some of its writers have gone on to fame in one form other another. But it’s lasting contribution has been a volume of quality content and awesome numbered headlines.

And they work.

See that example up there? That’s an article written by Jacopo della Quercia in 2010 that currently has over 5 million page views. In fact, the only thing harder than finding an article on cracked.com that doesn’t have a number headline is finding one that has less than 100,000 page views.

Negative Headlines
Example: Email Is Dead and Social Media Killed It

It’s a simple fact negative words spark emotions in people and can contribute to the click.

It’s an idea as old as the newspaper adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” meaning if there is a story with human suffering involved, it’ll find its way onto the homepage. As morbid as it sounds, adding negative words can really grasp the reader’s attention.

2. Learn to Love a Thesaurus — and All of Its Emotional, Powerful Words

Using common words in a headline can lead to some pretty boring copy. The main goal of the headline is to get someone to act, so use uncommon words.

 When creating a headline, it’s important to catch someone’s attention and you can’t do that with the average copy. Powerful words can evoke emotion, challenge your opinion, and force you to act. With the right collection of emotional words and the correct angle, you can force someone to stop and say, “Well that can’t be right, I need to read more.”

So the next time you’re about to write “annoying” try obnoxious.

Instead of “pain”, try agony. Don’t use “problem” — use catastrophe.

Jon Morrow over at boostblogtraffic.com wrote a staggering post laying out 317 power words that can improve your headlines. Go read it.

3. When All Else Fails, Use the Formula
Lenka Istvanova contributed a world of knowledge with her 2014 article outline of how to write the perfect blog post. Content is king, for sure, but Istanova completed the thought adding the much needed ending: “but presentation is queen.”

The meaning here applies so well to headlines. Your content could be 2,400 words of pure genius that will be all for nothing if the headline doesn’t do its job. To that end, Istanova suggests a formula, first penned by Jeff Goines.

(https://blog.bufferapp.com/headline-formulas)

If categories fail you and you can’t figure them out, try this simple format. It’ll produce some pretty engaging headlines.

4. Test Your Headline — It’s Powerful and Free!

There are a bunch of ways to test your headline for effectiveness. You can ask a friend, perform some scientific live experiments using A/B testing, or you can even pay for feedback through services like TestMyMarketing.com.

Or, since this is the Internet we’re talking about and you’re a smart digital marketer, you can choose one of the free alternatives that are every bit as good as their pay-as-you-go options.

The best, in my opinion, is CoSchedule’s Blog Post Headline Analyzer.

After you submit your headline to CoSchedule’s analyzer, the tool will deliver a detailed report on your work with overall letter grade, score out of 100, and in-depth information on how your sentence is (and is not) working.

The analyzer takes your headline apart word by word, identifies each as either common, uncommon, emotional, and powerful, and distributes them into separate categories. Having a good mix of common, uncommon, emotional and powerful words is essential to a good headline. Striking a balance between the four means you’re on the right path to a winning headline.

The tool gives you a good idea of where you’re lacking and also offers suggestions, so it’s helpful when you’re trying to improve. It even identifies what type of headline you are using and vary the score based on that.

The best thing about the tool is it keeps track of your submitted headlines regardless of whether you completely start over or adjust slightly and resubmit. You can look back through your history and see what scored best or worst, depending on your adjustment.

But Above All, Remember These Things

A Dead-Simple, 5 Step-Guide to Creating a Blog (That’s Free)

I was hanging out with some old college friends over the holidays.

In talking with my old buddy, he told me he had taken the time to read a few of my blog posts.

Startup Stock PhotoFunny, I thought, I have a reader. There’s one!

Anyway, he told me he and his wife were thinking about starting their own blog and enjoyed my post about free stuff you can use to make your blog post awesome. So through the course of this brief conversation I had gained a reader and proved myself to be an inspiration. What’s next?

They have a great idea too but had a bunch of questions about the process of bringing that idea to life. Where do you begin? How do you tell the story? How do you start your SEO work?

As it turns out, bringing a blog about is way, way easy. But the ease of bringing your story to life isn’t the best part. The best part is it’s all totally free. The only thing you have to spend on this project is time, which of course is very valuable.

So let’s not waste time.

Step One: Go Get a Free Blog Platform

First of all finding a free blogging platform is easy – just check Google. There’s plenty of free blogging platforms out there, the most popular being Blogger and WordPress.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Blogger and WordPress as platforms. PostSecret – a viciously addictive blog composed of deep dark secrets sent anonymously via post cards – is a Blogger blog. WordPress itself is synonymous with blogging – the two just go hand in hand.

The number one problem I have with those two popular options is they are not beautiful by design. They allow for all kinds of customization from common users which leads to some pretty awful looking pages.

Also, they are fairly limited in way you can make the clunky formats look clean and professional. It becomes maddening the ways Blogger and WordPress are limited just when you become comfortable with the platforms and attempt to take them to the next level.

Startup Stock PhotosI realize the irony of this as I type this post into a WordPress window but still – even the steps you need to take with customizing the full version can be frustrating.

WordPress and Blogger are what happen when you try to take a customizable situation and open it up to the world. Nice try, good attempt but it’s a horror show sometimes in what people will produce given an empty slate and open microphone.

On the polar opposite of those guys is Medium.

Now, I‘ve written before about Medium and my thoughts haven’t changed in the slightest.

Medium is a drop-dead simple, minimal and beautiful blogging platform that is right on the edge of being amazing.

It’s straight structure, lack of sidebars or distractions, and ample styling within the framework of it’s form is a thing of beauty. Two quotes come to mind when looking at Medium:

Form follows function,” and “Beautiful things work better.” Medium is the combination of the simple meaning of the former and the minimalist nature of the later.

Additionally, Medium lets you submit and share articles within communities so it’s got a built-in social aspect which makes finding like-minded people easy. The communities I have right off the bat — Medium calls them channels — deal with technology, humor and design, so I think that’s a reflection of the types of writing going on here.

But a deeper search into Medium will reveal all sorts of interesting blogs brought together by writers on various subjects. Take Gardening Kicks Ass for example.

Garderning Kicks Ass is a pretty interesting collection of stories maintained by one of the writers at Medium. When writers pull together articles from other writers in collections like this it’s called a Publication. This kind of collaboration and user-centric content maintenance and organization is really cool.

So if you’re looking for a blogging platform – especially to try it out first – go with Medium. You won’t be disappointed.

Step Two: Figure Out What to Blog About

After you’ve got your platform figured out, now you have to figure out what you Startup Stock Photoswant to write about. Most of the time people think about stuff like music, politics, or film to pick as a topic and that’s perfectly fine.

If you’re thinking about blogging, you probably already have an idea of what you want to write about. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes you just want to write and that’s a great thing. I want to take a second to talk about this with you.

If you want to write about several things you like or perhaps nothing at all, that’s ok.

Sometimes, people just want to write and they’re not sure what they want to write about. They just get the itch. There is something they want to shake loose. And that’s no problem – just start writing on a subject that you feel comfortable with at the time. When tomorrow roles around, write about something completely different.

Over the course of a month, bang out some quality draft posts that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s your world. Go crazy.

Here’s something you’ll learn about writing that’s important:

Writing is a process – not a project.

The benefit of this kind of activity is eventually, as you keep your fingers skipping across the keys and pumping out content, you will find yourself naturally sliding onto a rail and moving in a direction. You’ll unconsciously find your voice and discover your passion without knowing it.

Without knowing, it you will tell yourself what you like. It’s awesome. Trust me.

In other cases, people know what their passions are and that’s a great thing. If you’re one of those people I salute you. It’s tough to find that.

Regardless, you’ll eventually find what you want to write about and settle on it. Then you’ll get to the fun part –  writing the damn thing.

genMegaPhoneStep Three – Blog with SEO in Mind

This is the part where you sit down and write. Just write it out. Come up with an outline and work from there or just bang out the words. Whatever you do write.

By this part, it should happen on its own as long as you stay focused and keep working at it. If you’re struggling at this point, get back to planning out your writing.

As you’re writing, though, there’s some simple things you can keep in mind that can help you make sure you’re optimizing your post for search engines. There’s an excellent plugin for WordPress called SEO by Yoast that scores your post automatically. That’s free too.

Here’s some simple tips for writing a strong, clear, search engine optimized post.

Organize Your Writing

Regardless of what you are writing about, you need to do you and your readers a favor and organize your work. A pretty simple way of doing this is here:

  1. Title
  2. Opening paragraphs to warm up the post
  3. Meat of the Post
    1. Section 1
    2. Section 2
    3. Section 3
  4. Closing paragraph

You don’t have to always write in a numbered format or be instructional to have a structured post. You could just as easily talk about what you learned doing something and organize the couple of key points into sections. It’s just easier on the reader.

To be clear, if you don’t have any subheadings in your post, it’s going to be difficult for humans to read your writing. And humans are your favorite people.

Use Your Keywords

Your blog posts are going to be about a specific things or keywords relating to your topic. These keywords are important because they’ll help keep you focused on what’s important and help you get found in search engines.

Use these keywords in all the right places like the title of your post, the section headings, and especially in your post itself. To be technical, use keywords in your H1, H2, H3, page title, meta description, and in the copy.

Now, you’ve probably heard somewhere along the line of terms like keyword density with respect to SEO. While it’s true keyword density plays a role in SEO, it shouldn’t be abused.

If you were doing an album review, you’d probably use the artist’s name and title of the record in the headline. Then you would list a bunch of reasons broken out into sections as to why you think it’s a great album or not. Those sections are probably going to include the artist’s name and album title again.

After a while, just by being human, you’re going to use keywords in the right way.

Here’s a major takeaway: If you find yourself trying to work the system, you’re doing it wrong. If you are doing things like a human being, you’re doing it right.

Think about this whenever you’re trying to optimize anything for search engines and you’ll never go wrong.

Make it Pretty and Keep it Simple

There’s a thing out there called the Flesch Reading Test which to be brief scores how easy copy if to read. A lot has been written about readability and it’s relationship to SEO and to be honest, I don’t know if it directly contributes one way.

I can tell you this though, easy copy is easy to read. Good for SEO or not, do t for your readers and let’s all be happy.

Startup Stock PhotoIf you have to check how your copy scores, you can quite easily copy and paste your draft into some online Flesch Reading Test engine like this one. I’ve got another suggestion.

Keep your copy simple. The measure of a good writer is one that can distill a complicated subject into some simple terms. Don’t go overboard – make your sentences simple. Jack Kerouac once famously said “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

And while you’re at it, dress up your copy. It’s great to see pictures in your blog posts, they are free, and good for SEO.

HubSpot wrote a really great checklist for blog SEO. Read it here. 

Step Four – Reread, Edit, and Rewrite

Simple stuff here. Use spell check and edit your copy with intensity. Get it right before you hit send.

Ask a buddy to edit your stuff. Better your friend find the mistakes before your 50,000 readers.

Step Five – Never Forget the Most Important Thing

As you’re going through the process, it’s worth worth remembering the single most important aspect of writing. It’s the whole reason you’re doing this.

Here it is:

Writing is all about solving problems. If you think writing is about anything else, you need to rethink your understanding of writing.

Put it on a T-shirt, write it in a letter, or whisper it to a friend – it’s a single solid truth. That statement  — or at least a flavor or variation on it  — comes from many different sources and it’s completely true.

Stick to solving problems with your writing and you’ll always be on the right track.  Now go be awesome.

Stuff I linked to:

3 Free Resources You Can Use to Make Your Blog Look Awesome

For a bunch of reasons that don’t really matter, I’m currently recovering from a seven-year social media and blogging hiatus.

As far hiatuses go, I wouldn’t recommend one from the social scene. I watched a lot of things happen around me, missed out on some great conversations, and lost valuable time I could’ve spent meeting great people.

My skills went pretty soft too. That’s perhaps the worst part.

So when I decided to jump back into the mix, I did what most anybody would do if they were coming back to something after a long while.

I made a list of the resources I would. In this case, it was a list of stuff I would need to start telling my story on a blog. After some thought, I soon discovered one awesome thing from this exercise that I want to share with you.

Everything you need to tell your story on the web is free. 

And that’s what this post is all about. It’s about free stuff to put enhance your writing from stock photos, to tools and even the platform to host your blog.

This isn’t about how to form your blog post because other people a ton smarter than me have already done that. (Read: 5 Elements of a “Perfect” Blog Post) This isn’t even about inspiration because I’m willing to bet you’re already inspired.

Everything below is free and can be used today to get started telling your amazing story. Let’s go.

1. There’s Free Stock Photos to Make Your Blog Look Awesome

Let’s start with explaining why you need pictures to accompany your story.

Imagery is a vital part of blogging because it helps illustrate your tale and anyway, people relate to pictures. If you need more convincing, go read what the experts say about using images in your blog posts.

First off, there’s a bunch of sites with free stock photography on the web. You probably already knew that.

Here’s something you didn’t know: Some of them actually have awesome stuff.

The good folks over at BufferSocial complied a pretty decent list of over 50 sites to get you started. (53+ Free Image Sources For Your Blog and Social Media Posts)

As an aside, if you haven’t already, you need to check out the Buffer. It’s amazing.

Now, the list is pretty long and some of the sites aren’t the greatest thing ever. Some of the suggested sources are just plain difficult to navigate from a user experience perspective. Other sites have photos that are just plain bad.

But there’s some awesome stuff and here’s two right off the bat (plus one I like):

this-job-is-on-fire-1434906-4-m

From FreeImages.com

Free Images www.freeimages.com

I’ve personally used this site so many times for countless varied projects.

The site offers high-res, user-contributed photos that can be used for personal blogs or corporate campaigns. Polished isn’t exactly the word I’d use for this images – this is all about utility.

It just gets the job done consistently and that’s why I recommend it a lot.

If you’re a small business and you’re looking to start content marketing, the stunning amount of vertical-specific art on Freeimages.com makes it a must-have resource.

The account is free (that’s 100%, no future payment) so get after it.

IM Free

From IM Free

IM Free (www.imcreator.com/free)

I want you to take a good hard look at the image to the right.

That’s a beautiful picture from the site above.

It’s inspirational. They say “When it’s beautiful you don’t have to force it, it works on it’s own.” That’s what we have here.

This is the kind of work you build a site around. If you’re starting a gym geared toward kick-ass women, this is the picture you use.

IM Free is packed with this kind of quality photography and it’s free for you to use. This site has a personal feeling unlike any other I’ve seen out there. You can find inspiration for just about any project just by perusing the site.

Startup Stock Photos (startupstockphotos.com)

Startup Stock Photos

From Startup Stock

When I think of Startup Stock Photos, it reminds me of the good people on the Internet and how fortunate we are to have them.

The site’s creators obviously know how difficult it can be to work for a startup. Making this kind of high quality stock photography seems to be their way of giving back.

It’s all there in the site’s tag line:

“Take ’em, these things are free. Go. Make something.”

Startup Stock Photos is packed with professional, ultra-clean, modern, art.  And the best part is they are high-res, highly versatile, and above all, free.

Takeaway: There’s a bunch of free stock photography out there but a small percentage of it is awesome.  When you find something you like that inspires you — and it’s free — be polite and attribute the author.

When using this stuff, think about the time and effort the people put into what you are using for no charge. Take five seconds to give the author some credit. It’s the least you can do.

2. There’s Free Software to Make Your Blog Awesome

As you can probably guess,  one of my favorite things about the web is you don’t have to look far to find the free version of what others pay so much for.

Now, don’t get me wrong when I go into this because I firmly believe Adobe’s Creative Cloud is solidly amazing. Every part of it offers features to make your creative job easier.

Photoshop is here, it will be here tomorrow, and it’ll be here 100 years from now. It’s like A Christmas Story 24 hours a day on December 25. It will always be.

However, if you don’t have Photoshop, and tons of people probably don’t, here’s two options.

If You’re Confident in Your Internet Connection, Go With Pixlr

I was in a pretty tight spot for a few months. I was working on a big project but my Adobe license became an issue for me. And I needed to work on several different machines but always take my work with me. imgres

In other words, I needed to be awesome with a 16 gig USB and nothing else but my talent.  Enter Pixlr.

Pixlr is a browser-based image editor that just rocks.

From the layout to actual existence of layers, features and filters, color control and file formats, Pixlr is everything you’d need if you didn’t have the real thing, and you can access it anywhere without even signing up for an account.

A special bonus is you can save to the editor’s layed file format just like a PSD and return back to your work later.

Pixlr is your answer for free art creation if you have an internet connection that is steady. Plus it won’t cost you a dime.

If Your Internet Connection is a Question, Go with GIMP

Wait, hold on. Do this first: Download GIMP anyway, just to have it around.

Seriously, if you’re ever in a tight spot and say to yourself, “Wow, I have no Internet, it’s the Zombie Apocalypse, and I need to color correct this picture of a pancake on my cat’s head,” you’ll be glad you have GIMP.search

Here’s the deal. You can download GIMP for absolutely nothing and have a surprisingly powerful photo editing suite that rivals photoshop. (There, I said it.)

GIMP has been around since 1996 so it’s been through the motions. It’s baked out.

Aside from it’s long list of features, GIMP has an intuitive, easy to grasp interface, which helps if you need to hit the ground running. Plus it’s totally free.

And what are you going to use for a word processor? You could wait until the next day and pound out a couple hundred words on your company computer in Word but who wants to wait? I have two options, both of which I use often.

If You Can Jump Online, Use Google Docs

Everyone has a Google account these days but Google Docs is still somewhat unknown as far as the search engine behemoth’s other branded material goes.

In short, Google Docs takes everything useful about Microsoft Office and makes it free.

Google Docs has three features:

  • Slides: a fairly decent presentation editor for slide decks
  • Sheets: a spreadsheet tool
  • Docs: an online word processor

Docs is everything you are used to with Microsoft Word except it’s free and it’s online. Everything you need to fire up a blog posting and make sure it’s spelled correctly is in Docs.

It’s a beautiful thing.

If Your Internet Connection is Shaky, You Need OpenOffice orb

Again, I’m going to make a suggestion. Just download OpenOffice, even if just to have it around.

Every time I get a new machine, I download it as a safety net because it’s free and incredibly powerful.

OpenOffice has all the elements of Google Docs with the addition of a 3D Illustration editor, database administration tool, and mathematical equation editor. It really has that last part, I’m not kidding.

OpenOffice’s word processor, Writer, is a sleek, modern writing tool that — believe me when I say this — gets more powerful as you use it. It’s a smart tool that makes writing easier.

If you’re looking for a program to write without distraction you need to check out OpenOffice. It’s amazingly free.

3. There’s Plenty of Free Places to Host Your Blog

As far as actually getting your content out there, you have two pretty solid options — Blogger and WordPress.

The Google-owned Blogger has been around since 1999.

It’s quite simply the easiest site to use if you’re going to start up a blog and see if you can stick with it. It’s fairly customizable — you can change some HTML / CSS — and its easy to add video and images.

Given, there’s only so much you can do as far as customization goes but that’s the tradeoff for a free product.

WordPress is another big-name option that lets you blog for free. It’s great too and has just as many features as Blogger.  There’s some customization and features. Like Blogger, WordPress is super simple to use and pretty much gets out of your way.

To be clear, the only real reason I’ve heard anyone prefer the free versions of WordPress over Blogger is the former just looks cleaner.

Blogger’s user interface is in sore need of a overhaul. WordPress looks bright and simple. Both are, but WordPress just is.

And then there’s Medium.

I love this site because it’s not about flash or even features – it’s about writing.

Medium features both distraction-free writing and presentation.  It’s remarkably modern, clean, and above all – free.

If Medium was a design element, it would be the white space used to enhance art.

Mashable writer Grace Smith did an awesome job pulling together 16 Blogging Platforms for Distraction Free Writing. Read up on that for more.

But, if you have a few bucks, host your own.

Now, I admit it, I feel way more comfortable with a platform that I can manipulate, right down to the bits.

So, I pay for hosting. By the way, if you’re looks for hosting with awesome customer service, go check out InMotion Hosting  (inmotionhosting.com).

Anyway, I pay for hosting because I like to know that I can customize my site and when I’m done, good or bad, it’s my design. Plus its my content.

That’s the whole reason I use WordPress on a hosted site. It’s free to download and install and considerably easy to use and customize. Also I don’t have to pay to add certain themes, styles, and I don’t have copyright issues to deal with. It’s my content.

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