10/24/2011 02:43 EDT | Updated 12/24/2011 05:12 EST

Users fume as Google quietly takes away the + for searching, moves cache links

TORONTO - Google has quietly made significant changes to how it performs searches and users are demanding an undo.

Users on Google's help forum recently noticed that adding the + symbol in searches no longer works.

Using the + symbol before a word ensured that Google only retrieved web pages including that term. For example, a search for "+Canada online" produced a list of web pages that all included the word Canada somewhere on the page.

Now, users must use double quotation marks around a word instead of the old + symbol: "Canada" replaces +Canada in Google-speak.

Reaction to the change has been largely negative.

"I made some profane comments in their search feedback, but apart from that, I don't know what can be done. If Google wants to shoot itself in the foot, there's little we can do to stop them," wrote user dtfinch.

"I've used the boolean '+' operator for as long as I can remember. It's ingrained in my search methodology. It aggravates me every time I make a search (and) then have to turn around and adjust the search to current standards," posted Colt45ws.

Kelly Fee, a search community manager at Google, responded to the criticism by saying the move was meant to make search better.

"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," she wrote in response to complaints.

Google users have also rebelled against how links to cached pages are now being displayed in most browsers. A link to a cached page — an older, archived version of a web page — is handy when a website is slow or down, or when wanting to view a previous version of a site.

Cached links used to appear in the search results right after a web page's description and URL. Now the links appear in a separate pop-out tab as part of Google's Instant Preview feature. When hovering over a search result, an icon pointing to the right margin of the screen appears, which brings up a preview of the web page. It's in that preview pane that the cached link appears.

Some older browsers that don't support Google's Instant Preview feature may still display the cached link in its old easy-to-find position, which Google users seem to overwhelmingly prefer.

"This cache issue is pretty much the last straw. Time to go looking for a new search engine. So stupid I can't even describe it. Preview is just a huge annoyance," complained user dogdvdcom.

"I know Google does a lot of innovation ... but why do you mess with the stuff that no one is complaining about, stuff that people know and love!? Please use your (search) engine on this term to see what me, and others, are talking about: "if it's not broke don't fix it," wrote bigmatty.