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I don't think you can take the exact number to the bank, and it's bound to vary from engine to engine, but as I understand it, the design of an efficient spider requires some kind of cut-off point.
Yes, this means that having lots of structural information at the top of your HTML can hurt your ranking. Using external css and js files can help your deeper content get indexed.
Benefits also come from using absolute positioning, so you can locate your most important text near the top of the HTML, no matter where it appears on screen.
You'll be startled when such a page renders, however. The text comes in first, and the nav, etc, fills in around it. This does give the visitor some immediate gratification, but if you have banner ads, you might want to load them first!
I'd hate to have my primary text block appear in some random spot for Opera users, or other oddballs like them. ;)
Designing an entire page using positioning though.... ugh. I'm an old fashioned print layout person! How will I ever cope with laying out in code and flopping back and forth to my browser to look at it? My eyeballs hurt just thinking about it. The SEs need to get their spiders & algos caught up with the times. It ain't all text anymore.
In my css file, I give each div an ID name in a statement. For a standard "inverted L" page, it might look like this:
In the HTML body, I say
<div id=content>text text text text text</div>
<div id=topnav>top navigation content here</div>
<div id=sidenav>sidebar content goes here</div>
As far as I know, every browser that uses CSS at all will display the content text beginning 220 pixels in from the left, 120 pixels down from the top, and wrap the text after 490 pixels (710 pixels in from the left).
The other divs that follow in the HTML, each with their own ID, will be rendered at (0,0) and (0,100)
Oh yes, if the browser is very old, or doesn't support CSS for some reason, the page can get very strange. The text is at the top, but the nav blocks are rendered BELOW the text. In other words, the browser will render the page in theb order the elements appear in the HTML, since it doesn't read CSS.
But absolute positioning has been around for a while. Very few visitors will have a problem. And the help this gives my pages far outbalances the few who see it oddly. And, as a backup, I usually include important text links right at the bottom of the "content" div, so I know that any visitor will be able to get basic navigation, even if they don't see the beautiful layout the way I planned it.
When I use it I may end up with four css files: nn800, nn1024, ie800, ie1024. For now, I send everyone above 800 to the 1024 file. My assumption at present is that many people with the highest screen resolutions are not running their browser at full screen.