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We have a website that has nice rankings in the Google SERPs for keywords which aren't in the meta description. As a result, Google assembles a text to display on the SERPs from the website top-down. Since a form is the first thing displayed on the page, the text is completely scrambled.

This would be the code for the page:

<div id="form">...</div>
<div id="content">...</div>

What we want to do is to change the order of the divs so Google can assemble a text from #content instead of #form, but still show the same order using css:

<div id="content" style="margin-top: 200px">...</div>
<div id="form" style="position: absolute; height: 200px; top: 0;">...</div>

Would this work and more importantly: would this be penalized?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I very much doubt it's going to be penalized, since it's a common and recommended practice for implementing top-of-the-page navigation elements.

For example, Wikipedia's tab interface and search form are implemented like that. If you look at a random Wikipedia page with style sheets turned off, you'll notice that the first piece of content on the page is the page title, followed by a tagline ("From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia") and some section links to the navigation menu and search form at the bottom of the page, below the content:

  Screenshot of Wikipedia without CSS

With the style sheets turned on, the "jump to" links are hidden and the navigation menus are moved to the top and left side of the page.

Designing your page layout like this is not just recommended for SEO; done right, it also improves the user experience. In particular, putting the actual content in front of the navigation boilerplate makes it load faster for users on slow (e.g. mobile) connections, and saves users on text-only or non-visual browsers (e.g. blind users with aural browsers) from having to skip the boilerplate on every page.

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Moving around content in-and-of-itself will not get you penalized by Google. Moving it around to manipulate the search results, typically by hiding it, will. That obviously isn't the case here so in your case you're fine.

Your solution may work, it may not. Keep in mind that meta tags are not used in the rankings and that Google can show anything it wants in the snippet shown int he search results. It does not necessarily have to be the meta description nor the text from the top of the page. Rearranging the content using CSS doesn't mean Google is going to see the content is different order and thus choose the higher content. It is going to display the content it thinks is the most relevant regardless of where in the page that content is. Moving it around isn't going to change it.

My opinion: don't fix what isn't broken.

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