The breadcrumb trail is a useful tool for both web designers and SEO experts. It helps Google bots to better understand the website hierarchy, and it helps users to comprehend their current position on the site.
However, not all websites implement this navigation tool. Perhaps many do not consider it to be necessary because of its minor and unclear impact on SEO.
In this post, I will talk about different types of breadcrumbs, their pros and cons, and their impact on a website’s search rankings.
3 Types of Breadcrumbs You Should Know About
1. Location-based Breadcrumbs
Also known as hierarchy-based breadcrumbs, they are the most common type of breadcrumbs. They represent the structure of the page and help users to understand the site’s multiple level hierarchy for better navigation.
Location-based breadcrumbs are convenient for showing the site’s structure to visitors who have entered a deep page in the site from external sources.
Let’s say we Google “Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism”, then choose the link to Amazon.
If for some reason we are not completely satisfied with the result, and instead of closing the page we follow the link “Teen & Young Adult” offered in the breadcrumbs, we are able to explore related items.
The only unusual thing is that the current page is not mentioned. Generally, website designers put the current page in the breadcrumbs, but do not link to it.
Or, as another example, the current page is mentioned in the breadcrumbs, but is not linked to them. Be sure that breadcrumbs do not duplicate the main menu and secondary navigation options, and that they are unique.
2. Attribute-based Breadcrumbs
These breadcrumbs explain the relationship of products to one another and help visitors to find a new approach. They show a list of attributes which the user previously selected.
You often see the simultaneous use of two breadcrumbs types: at the beginning, there are location-based links, followed by attribute-based links, which appear when you use filters, for instance.
It usually looks like “Home > Product category > Color> Size > Shape”.
3. History-based or Path-based Breadcrumbs
History-based breadcrumbs provide the visitor with the path they have followed through the site.
Basically, it looks like this: Home > Previous page > Previous page > Previous page > Current page.
This breadcrumbs type is unpopular, since it could easily be replaced with a “Back” button, which is usually recommended by designers and UX/UI experts.
Path-based breadcrumbs can be helpful sometimes, but they are more often puzzling and confusing due to the fact that users sometimes jump wildly from one page to another, often in no logical pattern.
There is also no need for a history trail for visitors who arrived at a deep page directly from Google or some other external source.
However, some websites combine history-based breadcrumbs with other types. For instance: “< Back to results | Home > Product category > Color > Size > Shape”.
Where to Use Breadcrumbs
A breadcrumb trail is necessary for websites with a complicated structure or with a wide variety of pages and categories.
These usually include shopping websites (including ecommerce), knowledge bases, news agencies, massive blogs, and publishing houses, so their popularity within WordPress websites is understandable.
You may use breadcrumbs for almost any website, except those which have no logical hierarchy or grouping (single-level websites, landing pages, etc).
The decision to use or not use breadcrumb navigation fully depends on how your website hierarchy is designed. A breadcrumb trail can act as an extra feature, but it cannot replace a conventional menu.
Common Mistakes Using Breadcrumbs
Despite all their advantages, these navigational links are sometimes excessive and can even be harmful for your website. Let’s take a look at some major mistakes made while implementing and using breadcrumbs.
1. Disorderly Categories
A breadcrumb trail is a linear-structured set of links, so it is useful only if all the pages are classified into neat categories. If the page could be related to several parent categories, adding breadcrumbs could be puzzling and confusing.
2. Duplicating the Main Navigation
Navigation options on the page have to be clear, visible and functional. A breadcrumb trail is used only as an additional navigation tool to provide unique links to previous categories on the page.
3. Unnecessary Breadcrumb Usage
Some websites do not require breadcrumbs because the main menu, secondary navigation, and some other blocks provide all the options necessary to show the way.
For example, ASDA groceries does not implement breadcrumbs, as the main navigational menu remains visible when and after you choose categories.
Breadcrumb Benefits for SEO
Let’s talk about the problems we can solve using a breadcrumb trail.
1. Bounce Rate Reduction
Breadcrumbs tend to create a positive first-time experience for visitors and entice them to explore the website.
A common situation is when a user arrives on a page thanks to their Google search, sees breadcrumbs, and clicks on a higher-level link in order to view all related items or topics. In this instance, the breadcrumb trail reduces the bounce rate.
2. Enhancing User Experience
Users often browse wildly, clicking on intriguing pictures and headlines, and forgetting their original goal in opening the website. Nobody likes getting lost.
Breadcrumbs offer users a way to navigate to higher-level pages with one click, much easier than clicking the browser’s “Back” button a dozen times to reach the original page.
3. Small Size & Functionality
Breadcrumbs are horizontally oriented, short, and typed in plain font. Therefore, they do not take up much space, which is especially vital for a site’s mobile version.
Being small, breadcrumb trails free up space for content, perfectly replacing traditional third-rate navigation tools.
4. Positive Impact on Google
Not only are breadcrumbs popular with users, but search engines appreciate them as well. Google defines them as one of the enhancement tools that could positively influence your website’s ranking.
Recently Google has added breadcrumbs, accompanied by images, to the top of search result pages. This dramatic step could actually be part of an evolving mobile-first version of Google.
A breadcrumb trail provides search engines with a hint about the website’s structure. Moreover, Google might show your breadcrumb trail in search results, making your link more attractive to users.
Breadcrumbs for Mobile
The idea that breadcrumb navigation is not good for a website’s mobile version because it takes up too much space on a small screen is not exactly accurate, but is held by quite a few SEO pros.
Mobile websites usually benefit from showing a small breadcrumb trail when the primary navigation bar is hidden, because breadcrumbs have a positive impact on user experience.
You should display at least one link back on the website’s mobile version. It will provide a browsing tool and a location marker as well.
Breadcrumbs & SEO
Breadcrumbs clearly have some influence on user behavior, but are breadcrumbs good for SEO?
The answer is yes, although they won’t provide a magical boost to your SEO results.
The improvements will create a better user experience, leading to elevated page ranking. You can boost your ranking by showing breadcrumbs in the meta description, too.
Be careful when using breadcrumbs for SEO purposes. Keywords can be used as anchor text for each link, but make sure they look natural to the human eye.
In this case, Google will consider the linked page as a suitable search result for certain queries and rank it higher.
Here are several best practices when using breadcrumbs on your website.
- It is best to use breadcrumbs for websites that have a hierarchy of three or more levels. For mobile versions, use a minimum of one backward-pointing link.
- Do not link to the current page, but mention it in the breadcrumb trail.
- Use shorter names for breadcrumbs instead of long original link names, with targeted keywords inside (but do not overstuff).
- Use arrows to separate links. You can use a simple “>” , or opt for a fancier arrow design. Note that slashes and vertical bars could be confusing to users.
- Place breadcrumbs at the top of the page, above the content and main title.
- You still need a conventional navigation tool, even if you are using breadcrumbs. Just make sure the links do not duplicate.
That being said, use breadcrumbs wisely to provide a positive user experience to website users to reduce bounce rates and increase time on site stats. Though this does not guarantee any significant boosts to SERPs, breadcrumbs are helpful to your users and will help you stay on your users’ good side.
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All screenshots taken by author, May 2018