Google Removes The + Search Command

Google has quietly removed one of the older search operators, the + search operator. Now if you try adding a + sign in your query, Google will ignore it.

Why did Google remove the old search operator? Kelly from Google said in a forum thread that you can now use the quotation marks operator instead of the + operator. She said:

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"].

I am feeling Google removed the plus operator because of Google +, their social network. They do not want Google + confused with the operator, and now typing in + into Google + will auto complete with your friend’s names.

I personally rarely used the plus operator, often using quotes instead. But I am personally sad to see it go.

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 Now all those references across the web have become outdated, for no apparent reason other than maybe Google picked a name for its social network that wasn’t searchable.

As for “+1″ itself, you literally cannot search for that on Google. Seriously. Look:

Any search term that has a + symbol in front of it is a special command that tells Google to find pages that have that exact term. So the search above for +1 actually means a search for the number 1. If you want to find +1, you have to search for ++1. But that doesn’t work — Google ignores the extra + symbol.

Look at that search today:

You can see that searching for [+1] causes a warning to appear, that you’re now searching for just 1. In this particular case, it makes no difference — Google has gained so much anchor text with the number 1 in it that it’s managed to rank well just for that number.

But in other cases, you might be seeking more specific content about +1 but not finding it, because +1 was just doing a search for the number 1. That’s why shifting to searches for “+1″ makes sense — though it’s a change being made almost certainly solely for Google’s benefit.

It also perhaps poses a problem for people who are searching within Google+ itself, where people are commonly referred to by using a + symbol in front of their names.

In the end, I described the change on Google+ like this:

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.

The plus symbol was used by web search engines before Google started. It’s been widely taught, and it seems to have been tossed out and replaced by quotes because of a problem Google created for itself, by picking stupid names for its social network.

Postscript: Google tells us about the change:

We’re streamlining the ways you can tell Google to search for the exact keywords you type, whether it’s an exact phrase or a single word, by focusing on the functionality of the quotation marks operator. So, if in the past you would have searched for [magazine +latina], you should now search for [magazine "latina"] to get the same results.

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • C.G.

    Well this explains why yesterday I did a search with the + command, and Google responded with a message that it was ignoring the +

    I agree with Sullivan: Google is increasingly showing the results it wants to show and assuming it knows better than the human searcher. The + command was a quick way to force results related to what you actually searched for, not what Google assumed you meant. Yeah, quotes work, I guess, but I am sorry to see + go.

  • http://processforusability.blogspot.com/ BrianSJ

    + was different to “. It has been replaced by “” before and after the item.

  • Chavi

    Here’s a list of all the symbols Google ignores in search. I guess now we’ll have to add the +. http://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=53539

  • DTS

    But if you just search for +1 with the (obvious to me???) “+1″ , it returns “Google +1 button” as the first result. I agree that breaking backward compatibility usually isn’t a good thing, though.

    Personally, I think “word” for exact matches is more intuitive- that what I would do by default. But that’s just me.

  • http://bjornwalther.com/sv/ Björn Walther

    I got scared there for a second. I thought they also removed the – sign from searches. If Danny Sullivan uses the + all the time, I’m the total opposite to him.

  • http://www.flickr.com/vertigelt Tom Hudson

    “I am feeling Google removed the plus operator because of Google +, their social network. They do not want Google + confused with the operator, and now typing in + into Google + will auto complete with your friend’s names.”

    So, it sounds to me like what they’re really saying is:

    “Yo, dawg. I heard you like Google+, so we removed + from your Google so now you can’t Google + in your Google+.”

  • rick

    You could Bing it. Still works there.

  • http://www.marketingdiy.com M.D.

    Ridiculous change. With recent removal of keyword parsing into web stats, and now this, I think Google is seriously beginning to lose the plot.
    I always use +word to indicate I definately want that word included, and -word to say I definately don’t want that word included – simple!

  • http://terrafalsa.wordpress.com laoshima

    I always found + to be less useful than just quoting it anyway. But whatever.

    What I find even more spurious than the high use of + is the assumption that it’s for G+. Otherwise this would be the case: “You can see that searching for [+1] causes a warning to appear, that you’re now searching for just 1.”

  • http://recoveringphysicist.com Keith Dawson

    They have now made it impossible to require the presence of a phrase in search results. I have often searched for something like e.g. +”Indian Hill”. How do you say that now — “”Indian Hill”"? I doubt it; I think you simply can’t specify that any more. Hasn’t Google ever heard of the Hippocratic Oath?

  • http://blakepl.us Blake Robinson

    The AND operator does the same thing that + did, no?

  • http://zerman.net/content.html michaelzed

    Agree with Danny on this, being a 25year+ Boolean.

    But as I always advise folk, check out the particular rules of your preferred search engine.

    However, this breaking of tradition is unbelievably stoopid, I’m giving it a BIG “-”

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk Nathaniel Bailey

    Personally, I don’t use the + symbol, I have always used “keyword” and I think most people I know have done the same for quite some time now, but for those that did you use to use +keyword, I’m sure its not going to be that hard for you to change and add an extra symbol to your searches :)

    Keith, why would you search for +”Indian Hill” or “”Indian Hill””? + and “” have done the same thing for some time so you where simple giving the same command twice in one search by doing either of those.

    Common guys, I dont see why changing from + to “” is such a big thing for some of you, its just one extra character for you to type in your search and its not like its going to change your seo or anything lol

  • DTS

    An amusing aside for Nathaniel and Keith: in testing out what was going on here, I googled “mars landings failures” and the only thing that turned up was this article and various repeats of it. So score +1 for grammar on the internet, I guess.

  • http://kaffeeringe.de K.D.

    Yes! Now people will be able to find out the truth about HD+

  • Lance Bull

    @Nathaniel Bailey, the functionality is that the plus operator told google to only return a result that was after the + sign. So, the query [yellowstone +"camping spots"] would only return pages with the phrase “camping spots” along with any that had variations of yellowstone. If a page didn’t have “camping spots” then it wouldn’t be returned in the results. Another example, say I’m searching for some technical solution to a computer issue. I might use a query like [thinkpad x41 multiple monitors]. The results of that might indicate to me that I should focus on the phrase “extended desktop”. So, I could fashion a query [thinkpad +x41 +"extended desktop"] that would only return pages with the phrase “extended desktop” and containing the keyword x41. It wouldn’t decide that I really meant extend. Desktop or Extended-desktop or any other variation. It also would decide I was looking for a x40 model – sure, x40 would appear in the results, but x41 would certainly appear.

  • Perret
  • http://www.epiphanysolutions.co.uk/blog/author/malcolm-slade Malcolm Slade

    While the + operator will be missed on the odd occasion I actually used it, I would gladly sacrifice much more for a Google that actually ranked sites out of merit over old school crappy SEO tactics.

    Grumble grumble :)

  • Laura

    @Lance Bull – good explanation of why the quotes don’t replace the +. Can’t believe that Google have done this just to add a ‘feature’ for its social network. Didn’t think I would ever move away from Google, but this has pushed me to change to Bing.

  • http://www.cleancutmedia.com Paul Lee

    now with google+ business explaining how they are using the + moniker… it all makes sense… but I am going to miss the + sign as well, it was my go-to symbol for search

  • http://buzzquotient.com/ B.Q.

    It has been done with aim to expand the functionality of the quotation marks operator. But this has made things more complicated. Earlier quotes were used for exact search which now doesn’t exist. I think using quotes in place of + operator has degraded quotes value and now it would be difficult to search for relevant results.

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