Googles changes the operators

If you’re a regular user of Google, I’m sure you’re familiar with the plus operator. It’s used as a tool by power users to narrow down results to ensure words will be in the search results.

If not, you’re probably familiar with Google rewriting your query to try and help your results; most commonly this is seen with misspelling; but often a word or two may be dropped from your query to assist with search terms you may have meant.

As Eric Schmidt once said, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about”. They also know you can’t come up with the best search terms for the results you want.

Sometimes things go wrong – often, the wrong word is dropped. Previously, adding the + operator; e.g. [winlirc +audiocapture] would solve this, now it requires quote marks – e.g. [winlirc "audiocapture"] to give useful results.

If you make a search on Google using the + operator to ensure a word is used, you’ll now receive the following message;

Showing results for google +replaced plus with quotes
The + operator has been replaced.
To search for an exact word or phrase, use double quotation marks: google “replaced” plus with quotes

Here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot of Google error - replaced the plus operator with quote marks
Google have replaced the plus operator with quote marks

So what’s going on? Google are changing some of the operators; they’ve updated their documentation on their help page. The negation operator, ‘-‘, still works as expected; as does the double-quote marks for both phrases, but now also for words too.

We’ve certainly noticed that over the last few weeks, for longer search queries some words are dropped that are seen as, in Googles own words; ‘evidence might come from language analysis that Google has done or many other sources’. However, in our experience, the search results have been mainly to give popular results, rather than more specific results that the search terms imply.

As an aside – as always, the underscore is treated as a special case – and is another reason why it should be avoided in URL structures, always use hyphens instead!

So what does the ‘+’ operator do now? For now, it seems very little.

Why has it been replaced? Nobody seems to know, although both the plus and quote operators were probably very similar in code.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s a minor gripe, but it now takes at least four key presses (and navigating both sides of the word or phrase); instead of just two. Google also seems to being less ‘choosey’ on keywords entered by the user; instead intending to match more popular results.

Of course, real expert users can continue to use the nfpr=1 querystring to disable most of Google’s corrections.

Since Google haven’t made an announcement, if anyone else has any more information about this change, please let us know in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Googles changes the operators”

  1. The other issue with this is that you can no longer differentiate between a phrase and a mandatory phrase, e.g. “fried eggs” and +”fried eggs”. The + is sort of logical, encasing in double quotes less so.

    • I agree, it is quite confusing using these two operators for different tasks; and it’s more work to use it too.

      However, I haven’t come across any times where a phrase (i.e. one in quotes) is ignored in a google search; even with some quite weird terms.

      It does also seem like you can still continue to use the + operator before phrases; it’s only warning about single words.

      Can anyone confirm? Still haven’t had a response from Google on this.

  2. Google just gets worse and worse.

    It tries to guess what I “might” want… instead of just giving me EXACTLY what I asked for.

    Why do you think I *SPECIFICALLY* searched for certain terms… just to have google totally ignore them?

    The old google worked 100%. I type in what *I* want… it immediately found it.
    Now it just returns 100000s of useless matches that have NOTHING to do with my search string.


  3. Google could have *EASILY* made both PLUS and QUOTE work simultaneously, without a single problem.

    Have *GOOGLE* (not users) just change all “+” words to “quoted words”.

    Like many things at Google, Google just doesn’t get it.

  4. This quotation optimization drives me crazy.I’m looking for a other search engine,after a certain point of development it’s all going down….sad 🙁

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