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Fresh Start For A New Year: Reduce Clutter

“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.” - Lao Tzu

Did you take a vacation?

If you took a break, I hope you had a good one! I've just returned from a relaxing holiday - it is summer where I am, the weather is great, and life is lazy and fine.

Holidays provide a great opportunity to reflect and take a new perspective, so one thing I tried to do was to step away from the internet. I didn't take a laptop with me on holiday. Needless to say, I really missed it. After all these years, I suspect I may as well be hard-wired into the interweb.

However, out there amongst the isolated dunes, I was reminded that....

Most Stuff Doesn't Matter

Most blog posts don't matter. Most news doesn't matter. Most Tweets don't matter. Social networks don't matter. These things can quickly become a meaningless distraction.

What's worse, is that we often miss the important things going on, because there is too much irrelevant clutter fighting for our attention. When I returned, there was so much stuff l hadn't read.

But was I any worse off?

Not really. I quickly came up to speed again by selecting a few important sources, and reading those.

It didn't take me long.

With this in mind, it was time to do some weeding and make a fresh start. My feed reader had become ridiculously cluttered.

Hard To See The Wood For The Trees

How many feeds to you subscribe to? Do you have a lot of unread items?

I certainly did.

Using my RSS reader had become a chore, mainly because I'd subscribed to so many feeds over the years that I was never, in reality, going to read. All those unread items were just made me feel guilty. I needed to reduce the clutter.

So I took a chainsaw to it.

I asked myself - what are the one or two sites in any given vertical that provide me with genuine value? Could I name them without looking at them?

It was actually surprising easy, especially given the rather useful historical usage data. Once I answered this question, I kept the truly useful feeds, and deleted everything else.

My feed collection now feels very Zen. No more news re-writers or trivia about who is doing what to whom. It's simple, elegant and best of all, a lot more useful than it was before.

What Is Your Desert Island List?

Your list will probably differ significantly from mine, but I thought I'd share a few sites, and try to see if there was any pattern to my choices.

One pattern was a fondness of good aggregation. By subscribing to one good aggregation site, I pretty much know what is going on in the generalist tech world, but without the need to subscribe to numerous individual blogs. One such site is Techmeme. Techmeme does a good job of harnessing the wisdom of crowds, by being selective about who is a member of that crowd.

The other thing I noticed was that I chose blogs with a distinctive personality behind them, coupled with an established reputation. For example, I read pretty much everything Danny Sullivan writes, because what he writes about is important.

Finally, there are the "official" blogs from the big companies in search - those blogs that form the horses mouth. Most of Google's blogs appear in this folder.

Do you notice any patterns to your RSS selections?

Getting Noticed In Crowded Markets

One problem with my approach is that it tends to be elitist. I'm concerned I'm going to miss upcoming writers who don't yet appear on the establishment radar.

Were you planning to start a blog this year? Have you done so, but are having problems getting noticed?

This article is a good reminder on the essential factors you need when you plan to enter a crowded market:

You can choose to sell to different people, such as small businesses; you can find new distribution channels; you can stratify the industry's price points by introducing a luxury class; or, you can redefine your selling proposition," he says, noting how Starbucks (SBUX) revolutionized the coffee shop by selling an experience rather than just a beverage.....However you choose to be different, you must be great at the basics and exceptional at your defining factor

That last part is killer. If I look at my RSS choices, they all have those defining features.

Recommended Search Reading

By no means conclusive, but I guess that's the point :)

Please share your killer sources with the SEOBook community in the comments.

  • Search Engine Land - Great editorial. Also features some of the top search writers as columnists and feature contributors
  • SEOBook - How could this not be on anyone's list! ;) Aaron writes some of the most useful SEO instruction in this vertical.
  • Google Blogoscoped - Keeping an eye on Google, so you don't have to!
  • Matt Cutts - Google's resident (Anti) Spam Engineer. Be sure to read between the lines.
  • Official Google Blog - All Google's announcements come through here.
  • Sphinn - One good way to spot new search writers, although it can tend towards industry navel gazing. Numerous gems, especially under the Greatest Hits section
  • SEO By The Sea - Bill digs out obscure search patent filings and analyzes them. Don't let the tight niche fool you - this site can provide valuable insights into the future direction of search.
  • Search Engine Journal - Always on top of all things search.
  • Top Rank Big List - When you've just gotta have it all! Top Rank Online Marketing Blog is also a great read.