Anyone who has used Google for any length of time is probably familiar with using the "+" operator in search queries in order to refine their results. This "+" older operator has been around for many years and is widely used by many searchers. It seems that overnight, Google has decided to remove this functionality from search queries.
In a recent response to a post in the Google Webmasters Forum (Link removed – no longer available), Google employee Kelly F. stated the following in regards to the removal of the "+" operator:
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. Cheers, Kelly.
The new process she outlined will work for most in most cases, but it does seem to make for more cumbersome searches. I personally can understand that Google needs to remove this in the wake of their Google + Social Media platform for obvious reasons, but as a frequent user of this operator that has been in place for the past 15 years I will be difficult to get used to a less intuitive process; regardless if it has the same functionality as the old way of performing the search.
There was an interesting postscript from Danny Sullivan:
I can’t believe Google has done this. I use the + command all the time, especially in an age when more and more, Google constantly reshapes a search based on what it guesses a searcher wants, rather than what they entered.
The functionality is still there, which is a relief. But having to do a search like this:
mars +landings +failures
now like this:
mars "landings" "failures"
is more complicated. It also goes against 15 years of how search engines have operated, where quotes are used to find exact phrases. Now all those references across the web have become outdated, for no apparent reason other than maybe Google picked a name for its social network that wasn’t searchable.
I think Danny Sullivan "sums" it up the change very well by saying:
Imagine people learned how to symbolize addition by using the + symbol, then 150 years later, one of the big calculator makers declared that the + symbol would now be replaced by using the " symbol. That’s what Google has effectively done, no big blog post, no notice, just yanked the command search engines have used for over a decade. And probably because it named its social network Google+ — making it hard to find.
I think this is an instance where the Google marketers and staff should have realized how the implementation of Google + was going affect search results. It also shows a lack of far-sightedness on their part to not speculate how the coining of the Google + brandname was going to cause problems for searchers. Removing this operator that has been around much longer than Google with no press release shows a profound lack of respect for the subscribers of the Google service.