Apparently Google thought that they could repurpose the search '+' operator for their new G+ family of products and proffer double quotes instead with little impact. The response was such that Google is now offering a two-for-one solution:
* double quotes
Note: I notice that frequently they ignore this 'new' operator.
* verbatim search
Note: well hidden, requiring at least an initial letter entered into the search box so that the left sidebar is generated; then look waaay down to the bottom for 'More search tools'; click it; again look way down to the bottom for 'Verbatim'; click it.
Yes, Google is not very serious about the user controlling the query.
If you give this 'verbatim' G a try and find you like it I suggest that you bookmark Google as:
to get around the having to delve into the sidebar each time.
I have been using both ixquick meta search (and Google free results) and startpage (ixquick's Google only results) for several years now. Startpage appears fairly close to the new verbatim-G in my initial check.
A fascinating follow-on is The SERPs Google’s Panda Forgot to Fix by Michael Martinez, SEO Theory, 14-November-2011.
Ah, Michael, you do have a way with words.
Google did a pretty good job of cleaning up the single med SERPs but the combination SERPs are clogged with Web spam. I cannot imagine many people really finding good information in these SERPs.
The cottage industry queries seem to be populated by safe if irrelevant content, but the more consumers a complex query is related to, the more likely it’s being dominated by made-for-advertising spam. The spammers won’t appreciate my saying so, but Panda is so Last Month. Now I as a searcher want to see the search engines do something for me next week.
There is of course much more to his article. The most important take-away - and one that perhaps says poor things about main stream, i.e. non-spammer, SEOs is that many/most are leaving so many so called 'long tail' query results to the spammers. It does vary somewhat by niche but I have a hard time considering subject basic combination terms long tail. I know that many drive me significant converting traffic. Apparently at least some spammers know this too.
Yes, it is an area the SEs (not only Google) are really really poor at quality control. But perhaps part of the blame goes to webdevs not optimising appropriately or efficiently.
Gotta love this business. There's always something new. Or improved. Or not.