Changes in Meta Content Language
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You can add a meta tag named Content-Language to an HTML document. The purpose for this meta tag is to indicate the language for the web page.
While adding some language support to my framework I thought it would be proficient to add this meta tag to my own web site and pages. The documents are primarily in English so why not indicate that the content is in English.
Because this seemed like a no-brainer, I immediately forgot about this little change
A few weeks later
In the following weeks I was puzzled when I noticed a sharp drop in Google's Webmaster tool and also Analytics. Looking into Analytics and the map overlay I discovered that the numbers for the United States are somewhat the same but not for the rest of the world. Note that this "rest of the world" includes the United Kingdom and Australia—countries where people actually speak English.
It really did not make any sense. At first, I thought that Google must have made some changes to their algorithm and indeed they did. They rolled out yet another Panda update and coincidentally this one to other languages all over the world according to their Webmaster Central blog.
At this point I remembered the change I have made with the Content-Language meta tag. Unfortunately, it happened pretty much at about the same time.
Now I am stumped what causes the drop. Is it their "improved" algorithm or could it really be that my change effects the global ranking in Google's search results?
Content-Language and ranking
If you search for SEO and Content-language it is almost universally believed that this meta tag has no effect; some even think it is actually beneficial. However, with the Panda updates rolled out now I would say all bets are off. Time to find out!
I have temporarily disabled the meta tag and we will see what happens in the following weeks if the results are coming back or not.
Change took place on 9/4/2011. I hope I will be able to see some results in a few weeks. From experience I think it will take about 2-3 weeks until I see some changes.
So far no change and the results are even worse. Don't know really what the Panda change did, i.e. why the page views have dropped. The rankings for most pages has actually improved but the impressions are down by about 60-70% and more.
I can now safely say that it was not the meta tag—it was the Panda that struck my web site. Beats me why the pages that ranked well are not up there anymore. Depending on the search terms they still do, though. It's interesting to see how simple little changes in the search terms return completely different results. Order of words and spelling seems to have a way larger impact now.
Final update 8/14/2012
Things have considerably changed since the last update for the better. Result in many ways are great and some adjustments seems to pay off. Unfortunately, I still can't tell if or what the meta content-language does and it might be time to just declare: "The content language meta tag does nothing in terms of SEO."