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August 29, 2007

Internationalization and Google Search Results

Google has always tried to be accessible: the search interface is available in more than 100 languages, the results are modified based on your location, the interface is simple and universally accessible.

If you don't live in the United States, you noticed that automatically redirects to your local domain, that shows messages in your language and custom-tailored results for your location. This is especially noticeable if you live in a country that doesn't have an important Internet presence and you see unimportant pages getting high rankings just because they happen to be written in your language.

Monomo Blog compares two local versions: the British Google and the German Google and notices important differences:

"Let’s say you search for something technical, like a certain Javascript Library - the pattern that the German portal displays more sites in German persists - but from a quality point of view the differences can be stark (the number of German speaking sites against English speaking ones surprisingly matters!). It seems that the priority of the guessed native language, overrules other aspects like relevance in quite a dramatic fashion. It is quite possible that you’ll never find a particular reference on the German Portal which features on the first result page on the British portal."

Google offers options to translate search results in your language, but only for a small number of languages. The cross-language search interface, which lets you search web pages written in foreign languages, is still an experiment. But until Google manages to translate all the web pages to a universal language and let you find any information available on the web, regardless of the language it was written in, Google could at least ask you the languages you know or you are comfortable with.

Meanwhile, if you want to use the standard version of Google, click on " in English" at the bottom of any Google homepage or type in your address bar. Google's cookie will save your preference, so the next time you go to you won't be redirected to the local version. Google also offers the option to search for web pages written in a certain language or from a certain country (advanced search) and you can see the search results from another location by adding the gl parameter to the URL (for example: shows the results from the US).

I don't use Google's localized versions because they're often not in sync with the original version, the translation is not very good and sometimes difficult to understand, the product is not fully localized (the help center is still in English) and the overall quality is significantly inferior. But in the case of search results, you also miss important information and find more spammy or irrelevant search results.

Monomo also thinks about the cultural implications:

"Now of course there is a whole bunch of well meant arguments which make the case for regionally optimised search results, but what are the implications? Surely if a whole culture or an language area (...) are constantly served fairly reduced differing information by the quasi monopolist, the knowledge base of that area will start to differ."

So even if it's important to tailor some search results to the user's location, language or interests, that doesn't mean you should sacrifice the quality of the results and lower user's expectations.


  1. > So even if it's important to tailor > some search results to the user's
    > location, language or interests,
    > that doesn't mean you should
    > sacrifice the quality of the
    > results and lower user's
    > expectations.

    Good points, but the quality of a webpage is not absolute to a person, but changing with each of us: if you don't speak English, what you as English-speaking individual may consider a higher quality page may be useless to that person... because they don't understand a word, or understand a bit but have a hard time reading more abstract texts. For these people, localized versions may be the only choice.

    But I agree that for those who speak English, the "default" English -- and English information in general -- is superior for most topics. For instance, most tech or development topics. But even there you need to look at the topic at hand; for instance, if I want to find out more about a specific city in Germany, the information a German page offers (say, may contain more details. If I speak German, this page may be better for me, and in contrast may offer a lower-quality English result (say,

  2. I don't use the UK Google site because it doesn't have the new Google interface with the menu at the top that has.

    It's another click to get to Gmail (or "Google Mail" as it's branded in the UK... ugh) with the old layout.

  3. I hate this redirection. I use Firefox and every time I right click to "Search Google for 'keyword'" I get a lot of wrong results in languages other than English. And with Google's result page I can't click "More" and "Blog search", "News" or "Products" etc, like I can on top of

    I have tried to change Google-settings, ncr-page, change language preferences in Firefox, deleted cookies, hacked FF's about:config and chrome://branding/content/

    Nothing works... I'm really disappointed on Google that the language preferences is hard coded in Firefox according to

  4. What I find interesting is that the gl parameter apparently gives different results than the corresponding Google locality site - compare and

  5. The difference between the localised versions and the default English is definitely exaggerated when looking for technical resources. The thing to keep in mind though, is that since programming languages (example) are also written in an English based language set it - it goes to reason that it'll have preferential positioning in the English search results compared to a German set.

  6. This is indeed quite upsetting. I'm living in French part of Switzerland, but look mostly for information in English. When I search with google for a brand name for example, I first of all find a long long list of german expression (google seams to assume that in Switzerland live only German speaking people, forgetting the French and Italiens). But the worst is that links to English webpage come only after all the others in German.

    I'm seariously thinking about switching to another browser just because of this? (Actually that's what I currently do for searches in English).


  7. I add one more point: I even have the impression that the Google Alerts are now based on an algorithm focussing on local webpages rather than international.

    For example I have set up a Google Alert for "Conference Sustainable Development". being myself based in Switzerland, the last five alerts all contained links to webpages in Germany although I'd be highly interested in what's going on elsewhere.

    Please, please do something about this.


  8. Sadly, Google, despite the obvious genius of their many employees, displays the same utter misunderstanding of the way multi-lingual and expat users user web search. This is a predominant trait of British/American companies.

    They love to infer search priorities and interface language from my location, which is just not right. Sure, that's what most people want, and it a wise default behaviour to prioritise German results for someone in Germany, using Google in German. However, they don't seem to grasp that for Germans, adding .de to the end of the domain is as automatic as adding .com is for Americans, hence surfers in Germany who surf to are most likely looking for English results.

    Google, however, automatically redirects you to Okay, there's a nice link to go to in English which sorts the problem out, but this is unfathomably lacking from the mobile version (to which you are also automatically re-directed if using a mobile device), leaving anyone in Germany more or less stuck with regardless of which Google site they actually want to use. Changing the interface language is possible, but the results are still weighted heavily towards the German web.

    It's a fine example of helping the more ignorant surfer to get the results he wants (though, as I stated above, the more ignorant surfer automatically appends his/her local TLD, not .com as Americans seem to assume), but they're also second-guessing surfers with more complex demands without allowing the opportunity to specify what exactly you do want.

    I've had no end of difficulty trying to get Google to show me the results I want (weighted towards English) on my iPhone with the mobile version of Google, because they're being all Microsofty and deciding that they know better than I do what I'm looking for.

    Every English-speaking tech company should have at least one multi-lingual, globe-trotting consultant to point out the idiocy of their assumed user behaviours.

  9. Please make it possible to search with Firefox's integrated Google search internationally.
    I also find it very annoying to have my search queries redirected to IP-based local search.

    Thanks for all the rest though.

  10. If you want to have the Google search box in Firefox always giving
    results in English, please see this page:

  11. The part that I can't understand, is why if I choose to "search the entire web" on, french results are still prioritized. If I'm searching the entire web, it means I don't give a damn about the language ! Otherwise I would've chosen "search sites in french".