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Google kills + (the operator not Google+)

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In the biggest change to its search engine since the introduction of Google Instant, Google no longer recognises the + operator included in search terms.

Google-

In a message that appears on search results which use the + operator Google informs users that the functionality has now been replaced by quotation marks;

“The + operator has been replaced.

To search for an exact word or phrase, use double quotation marks:”

The + operator was part of three basic search boolean tools which allowed users to filter search results to include or exclude key words.

  • To include a keyword users could place a (+) sign, before their term – this would search for all pages that included that additional term, e.g Ireland +election.
  • To exclude a keyword users could place a (-) sign before their keyword – this would search for all pages that didn’t contain that term, e.g. Ireland -election, or
  • To search for two terms separately users could format their search terms to include a pipe (|), e.g. Ireland |election.

The exclude operator (-) and the OR operator (|) have not been affected in this change.

Writing in response to a user’s question about the removal of the + functionality Google’s Google Search Community Manager, Kelly Fee, said the change is part of Google’s standardisation of its search engine;

“We’ve made the ways you can tell Google exactly what you want more consistent by expanding the functionality of the quotation marks operator. In addition to using this operator to search for an exact phrase, you can now add quotation marks around a single word to tell Google to match that word precisely. So, if in the past you would have searched for [magazine +latina], you should now search for [magazine “latina”].

We’re constantly making changes to Google Search – adding new features, tweaking the look and feel, running experiments, – all to get you the information you need as quickly and as easily as possible. This recent change is another step toward simplifying the search experience to get you to the info you want.”

One reason for the removal of the + symbol could be because Google sees any searches which include two terms (Ireland election) as having an implicit + symbol.

This change will now require users to write fewer complicated search terms. So rather than writing ireland +”presidential election” users will now just have to search for ireland “presidential election” – in fact these two search produce the very same results.

Google’s services have been going through a series of updates over the past year; This week Google announced that Gmail and Google Reader will be its latest services to be subject to this change.

7 Comments

  1. BAH why would they change that…

    so… what about a search like,

    something1, something2, “something like this”

    if you’re looking for the most relevant website it may come from only the first two words, and not the last phrase. How do you make it not required anymore… When you’re searching with keywords, a phrase is sometimes necessary to sort out all the non-relevant pages.

    For such a minor ‘improvement’ it really hampers the original way of searching.

  2. BAH why would they change that…

    so… what about a search like,

    something1, something2, “something like this”

    if you’re looking for the most relevant website it may come from only the first two words, and not the last phrase. How do you make it not required anymore… When you’re searching with keywords, a phrase is sometimes necessary to sort out all the non-relevant pages.

    For such a minor ‘improvement’ it really hampers the original way of searching.

  3. Quote “…in fact these two search produce the very same results.”

    How can you TEST that now that google has done away with the + operator and has decided to change practically-standard methods of search refinement.

  4. Quote “…in fact these two search produce the very same results.”

    How can you TEST that now that google has done away with the + operator and has decided to change practically-standard methods of search refinement.

    1. Hi @freetouse At the time of writing Google allows users to switch between the two methods.

      You’ll see that they now also don’t warn users;

      “The + operator has been replaced.

      To search for an exact word or phrase, use double quotation marks:”

  5. Hi @freetouse At the time of writing Google allows users to switch between the two methods.

    You’ll see that they now also don’t warn users;

    “The + operator has been replaced.

    To search for an exact word or phrase, use double quotation marks:”

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).