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Breadcrumbs On Websites: Best Practices & Why It Matters For SEO

Great content, terrible navigation. It’s a common problem that users see every day. Whether they’re trying to go back to a previous page they were on or trying to view all products in the same category, breadcrumbs help solve a lot of these issues.

It’s important for any site with multiple hierarchies that they incorporate a seamless form of navigation for the end-user. Why? We’ll explain the benefits that breadcrumbs have for your website, SEO and end-user in our blog.

What Are Breadcrumbs?

Breadcrumbs (otherwise known as a breadcrumb trail) are a form of navigation system for websites. This is typically in the form of a secondary navigation bar above a certain product or subcategory page that helps you navigate through pages of content on a website. Its name is of course taken from the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Much like the story, these breadcrumbs are designed to be a visual aid for users to navigate a large site.

Breadcrumb navigation is an especially important feature for online stores, be it a mid-size wholesaler or a large direct-to-consumer site.  It allows the visitor to quickly move from one page to another and will also help the search engines understand the site hierarchy better.

The breadcrumbs are dynamic and adjust based on where the website visitor is at. For instance, if you’re looking at the “Colonial Baseboard Moulding” page on Baird Brothers’ website, you’re going to see secondary navigation above the product. There you can go back to the subcategory preceding it, “Baseboard Mouldings”. Alternatively, the navigation can take you all the way back to where you started – the “Mouldings” top-level category page.

This allows the user more freedom to easily navigate however they want. For websites that house multiple products that are often bought together, it makes sense to have this navigation system. This increases the findability of any products the user may require without having to continuously press the back button on their browser and discourage them from leaving the site.

Types Of Breadcrumbs

There are a few different types of breadcrumbs that are commonly used. These are location-based, path-based and attribute-based.

Location-Based Navigation

This is the most common form of breadcrumb.  It is exactly as described in the scenario above, where you’ll be presented with a navigation bar that represents your current location on the site and every step preceding it to get to that location. The naming of the location usually follows the same naming for the page titles.

Attribute-Based Navigation

Attribute-based navigation is an extension of location-based breadcrumbs. They list out a specific category or attribute of a page to help the user visualize the path. For example, if you were to go on a clothing website and went to a page with men’s t-shirts and then filtered to only show athletic t-shirts, attribution-based breadcrumbs would reflect both filters (men’s t-shirts and athletic t-shirts). You’d then be able to remove the filters as you saw fit.

Path-Based Navigation

Path-based breadcrumbs are designed to show a user the complete history of their journey on the site. For instance, let’s say you’re on the homepage and move to page 2 and then page 3 – in path-based navigation you’ll see all of these paths in the breadcrumb navigation. However, if you went from a landing page to page 3, you’ll only see that landing page and page 3 in your breadcrumb navigation because you never went to the homepage or page 2.

While there are instances where a site might find this beneficial, it’s more likely to cause more headaches in the end compared to other forms of breadcrumbs.

Why Do Breadcrumbs Matter For SEO?

Breadcrumbs have always been an interesting topic when you start talking about SEO. They don’t really help a lot with rankings, but they are very useful on websites. Breadcrumbs are a great way for users to view the hierarchy of the site quickly, and they guide users through your website in an easy and organized manner.

Breadcrumbs serve many purposes for SEO. The first reason is that Google uses this navigation to better understand how the website is structured. This gives Google better context for certain pages on the site, especially those that have had no on-page SEO done to them (e.g. you had a product page on a medical supply website that only had the H1 “cotton swabs”). This helps you rank organically for more keywords than you would have.

Along with this, you’re helping the user experience, which actually can affect your Google search rank. If you were to have no breadcrumb trail and your site had several hierarchies, users are going to more than likely leave the site for one that has better usability. That’s going to increase your bounce rate significantly, which Google is going to see as a sign that your site isn’t worth serving up for users.

Breadcrumbs Best Practices

Breadcrumbs can be crucial make-or-break-it points for people when they visit it. Here are some best practices you should consider when implementing them.

Separate Each Section In The Trail

It’s important that you use separators for each section in the trail of your breadcrumb navigation to ensure that users will understand what’s the previous/next step in the path. You’ll usually see this denoted by the greater-than symbol (>), taking you from where you’re currently at to higher-level pages. There are other symbols that are used as well, such as “/”. Which one you use will just depend on the type of site you have and what fits better with your theme.

Make Sure The Current Page Isn’t Linked

For the most part, you should be utilizing breadcrumb links throughout the entire trail. With that said, you should not be enabling text links to the existing page your user is on in the navigation bar. This can just cause trouble for the end-user, and it can also increase your bounce rate for that page.

Don’t Treat Breadcrumbs As Your Primary Navigation

While breadcrumbs are a great way for people to navigate your website, you should not be treating them as your site’s main navigation menu. Remember that this is designed to supplement how a user normally navigates around the site.

Don’t Use Breadcrumbs If You Have A Simple Website

Breadcrumbs, as great as they are, are not for every website. This navigation is designed for larger websites with several categories that are hierarchical in nature. A breadcrumb trail doesn’t make sense for a site like a simple blog or a business that doesn’t sell products online (e.g. a restaurant).

Supplement Your Website’s Navigation By Using Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumb navigation is a critical component for larger sites, such as ecommerce sites, forums and more. Through the smart use of breadcrumbs, they not only help users, but they help make it easier for Google to understand your website and rank you for relevant keywords.

If you’re not sure where to begin with implementing breadcrumb navigation on your website, work with a team of web design experts. We’ll help evaluate your website and determine the proper structuring of your secondary navigation. Contact us today for a free consultation.