Yes, it's true, your baby is damn ugly (as Tim Ash would point out). It's tough to come to that realization for many webmasters, but it's harder for most to accept that despite how broken your website is, there are several Google-owned and operated websites that are probably just as broken.
Not to worry, because Google also does their best to love you and your ugly baby by offering Google Webmaster Tools to you for free (or, at no cost to you).
In recent months, we've seen algorithm changes (such as Mayday) and infrastructure changes (such as Caffeine), and even user interface changes (Google Instant), but the end goal of Google has remained the same. Offer the best experience they can to three levels of stakeholders: search users, advertisers, and content creators (webmasters).
The Status Quo
According to Maile Ohye, today's keynote presenter at SES Chicago 2010, not much has changed with the introduction of Google Instant. Despite a few disbelieving facial gestures from the crowd when she stated paid search was largely unaffected (the jury's still out for most of us), many would agree that not much has changed for organic search.
Impressions per query has gone up considerably, on the order of 5-7 times that compared to "non instant," according to Ohye. Translation: webmasters that see a decrease in CTR can probably attribute part of that drop to Google Instant "impression flipping."
But that doesn't mean you should go out and try to optimize for the letter "M" or anything, because according to Ohye, users still want to get to relevant results. In fact, many in the crowd would argue that best practice would be to optimize for longer phrases first, including full sentences and questions.
What's New In Google Search?
New and exciting features just in time for SES Chicago include the "shared by #" link that now shows up in Google Universal Search results, specifically attached to news results. Further indicating a potential shift from linking authority to social relevancy factors (perhaps).
In addition, Ohye shared details about the development of a new "rel=alternate" tag for websites with multi-lingual site templates, a cool but uber geeky feature. And another particularly useful e-mail alert feature from Google Webmaster Tools that alerts you to potentially unsafe pages on your website (malware, phishing, etc).
Where is Search Going?
A recurring theme throughout this conference was "the future of search." Who better to tell us than Google themselves?
The truth is that there has been a significant digital divide between television and computers/tablets/mobile devices. With the introduction of Google TV, all of that is about to change, as more and more devices such as Sony televisions, Blu-ray players, and Logitech set-top boxes roll out Android-based systems that will transform the way we consume digital content.
Webmasters will have to re-examine the way users interact with their sites, but those that do will be able to leverage the huge subscriber base that television-only audiences represent.
It was an eye-opening keynote panel that I wish we could have extended for a few more hours, but I'm guessing we'll see more in the weeks and months to come.