About a month ago, Google Blogoscoped wrote of a link bomb that pushed UK prime minister Tony Blair's official biography to number one in a search for liar on Google. That is, if you use Google UK. Do the same exact search on Google.com, and the biography currently ranks fifth.
What's going on? It's not a case of having used the "Pages From The UK" option at Google UK to get UK-oriented results. This difference happens when using the default search "The Web" option at Google UK. In short, a search across the entire web at Google UK is not equal to a search across the entire web at Google's flagship Google.com site.
This isn't a Google-specific issue. The liar query underscores a big change that's snuck up on search users of several major search engines over the past year. Search engines have straying more and more into showing different results at the various country-specific versions they operate, even if country-specific results were not requested.
For Search Engine Watch members, I've posted an extended version of this story that looks at how and why these changes have happened, ranging from mirroring and censorship issues to specific ranking differences that are done in hopes of bettering the user experience.
Overall, I understand and can even applaud the desire to try and help users in a particular country get better results. But I think better disclosure that skewing is happening should be done if a user is choosing to search the entire web, when at a country-specific edition of a major search engine.
I'd also like to see all the major search engines ensure that if you go to a particular country-specific edition, regardless of where you are at, you see the same thing.
In other words, everyone who goes to Google UK should see the same thing, regardless of whether they are in the UK or not. The same for those going to Google US (FYI, Google says that's currently the situation).
The above is terms of editorial results. In terms of ads, I also think the search engines should provide options. If you want to see ads targeted at those in particular countries, when at a particular search engine, you should be able to say so. As an American who lives outside the US, I still have an interest in US-targeted ads. I'm hardly the only expat of any country like this.
My extended article on this topics for Search Engine Watch members is here.