I checked Google just before I posted this and am even more confused. I was going to post this on a search engine forum instead, but my ultimate question is more related to web page design...
I THOUGHT that when you type a term into Google's search box, each hit returned the first text it found on the page. So, if you had a web page titled Arizona, and this was your first paragraph...
"Arizona is a beautiful and diverse state. It features deserts, mountains and the world's most famous canyon."
...Google would display "Arizona," the first sentenced and the beginning of the second sentence - unless there was some text higher up the food chain in your source code.
For example, if you had an advertisement at the top of your page, then Google might display the ad first.
In the meantime, I though Google no longer paid attention to the description meta tag. At least, that's what I heard; I guess I never really checked it lately.
Anyway, I just looked up a few of my pages in Google. One of them did display the text from the Description meta tag. The other displays the SECOND sentence in the first paragraph, skipping the first sentence. That's a new one for me.
But this is the question I'm leading up to: Do most web designers design pages in such a way that the main content is first in line when the search engine spiders come calling? Or is it generally considered too much trouble to bother with? Or is there some special trick for getting that main content to register, even when it's preceded by ads, navigation links, or whatever?
I've long used really simple page designs using tables. I'm now playing with a table-less design. The right column actually comes BEFORE the main content, structurally; it's just floated to the right. So I'm assuming any text in the right column is going to register in search engines before the main content.
Sorry for the rambling question. I just want to know how other people deal with this problem - or if they just ignore it. It looks like I also need to check out search engines again, as Google seems to be doing things different than I recall...