Breadcrumbs: To Crumb or Not to Crumb: Weighing the Benefits and Drawbacks of Website Breadcrumbs



Breadcrumbs are a website navigation technique that enhances user experience by providing improved navigation, enhanced orientation, time and effort savings, contextual understanding, and increased findability. They help users understand their current location within a website’s hierarchy and allow for efficient navigation and exploration. Breadcrumbs come in different types, including hierarchical, attribute-based, and history-based, each serving specific purposes based on the website’s structure and content. While there are some potential cons to using breadcrumbs, such as limited screen space, visual distraction, redundancy with browser navigation, confusion with complex structures, implementation challenges, and localization issues, these drawbacks can be mitigated with careful design and implementation. Furthermore, breadcrumbs can indirectly impact SEO on ecommerce websites by helping search engines understand the site’s structure, improving user engagement metrics, and enhancing click-through rates. Optimizing breadcrumb labels, using consistent and canonical links, and implementing structured data markup can further optimize breadcrumbs for SEO. Overall, breadcrumbs contribute positively to website usability and can have SEO benefits when implemented effectively.

Types of Breadcrumbs

The three types of breadcrumbs commonly used on websites are as follows:

  1. HIERARCHICAL BREADCRUMBS: Hierarchical-based breadcrumbs, also known as location based breadcrumbs, display the user’s current location within the website’s hierarchy. They typically show the path from the homepage to the current page, with each level of the hierarchy represented as a clickable link. For example: Home > Category > Subcategory > Current Page.
  2. ATTRIBUTE-BASED BREADCRUMBS: Attribute-based breadcrumbs, also known as attribute filters or facet breadcrumbs, are commonly used in ecommerce websites with filtering options. They display the attributes or filters applied by the user to refine their search results. For example, if a user selects “Brand: Nike” and “Color: Black,” the attribute-based breadcrumb might display: Home > Category > Brand: Nike > Color: Black.
  3. HISTORY-BASED BREADCRUMBS: History-based breadcrumbs, also known as path-based or trail breadcrumbs, show the user’s navigation history within the website. They display the sequence of pages visited to reach the current page. This type of breadcrumb can be useful when users want to backtrack or revisit previously viewed pages. For example: Home > Category 1 > Subcategory 1 > Category 2 > Current Page.

It’s worth noting that these types of breadcrumbs are not mutually exclusive, and a website can incorporate multiple types depending on its structure and user interface. The choice of breadcrumb type depends on the website’s goals, content organization, and user experience considerations.

Depending on their structure and content, websites can use three main types of breadcrumbs. Hierarchical breadcrumbs illustrate the parent-child relationship between pages, such as Home > Category > Subcategory > Product, and are ideal for e-commerce, education, or media sites.  History-based Breadcrumbs show the user’s browsing history on the website, such as Home > Previous Page > Current Page, and are beneficial for websites with a linear or sequential flow, like online forms, surveys, or quizzes. Lastly, Attribute-based Breadcrumbs indicate the attributes or filters that the user has applied to a product or service, like Home > Shoes > Color: Black > Size: 9, and are useful for websites with a lot of options or variations, including travel, real estate, or fashion sites.


How Do Breadcrumbs Help With a Websites User Experience?


Breadcrumbs are a website navigation technique that helps users understand their current location within a website’s hierarchy. They typically appear near the top of a webpage and provide a trail of links that represent the path from the homepage to the current page. Breadcrumbs contribute to a website’s user experience in the following ways:


  1. Improved Navigation: Breadcrumbs act as a secondary navigation aid, allowing users to quickly understand where they are in the website’s structure. They provide a hierarchical context, making it easier for users to navigate back to higher-level pages or explore related content.
  2. Enhanced Orientation: Breadcrumbs provide users with a sense of orientation within a website. They help users understand the relationship between pages and how they fit into the overall site structure. This reduces disorientation and allows users to maintain a mental map of the website’s organization.
  3. Time and Effort Savings: By displaying a clear trail of links, breadcrumbs allow users to jump directly to higher-level pages without having to rely solely on the browser’s “back” button or retrace their steps. This saves time and effort, especially when users are exploring deep within a website.
  4. Contextual Understanding: Breadcrumbs provide additional context to users, allowing them to anticipate what they might find on higher-level pages or related sections. This can help users make informed decisions about their next actions, such as choosing a different category or topic.
  5. Increased Findability: Breadcrumbs can improve the findability of content within a website. Users who arrive at a specific page through search engines or external links can quickly understand its position within the site structure. This aids in discovering other relevant content or exploring different sections of the website.

Overall, breadcrumbs contribute to a positive user experience by enhancing website navigation, reducing user confusion, and providing valuable contextual information. They improve the overall usability of a website and help users accomplish their goals more efficiently.



What Are Some Drawbacks About Using Breadcrumbs on a Website?


While breadcrumbs can provide numerous benefits to website navigation and user experience, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider:

  1. Limited Screen Space: Breadcrumbs can consume valuable screen real estate, especially on smaller devices or pages with limited horizontal space. If the available space is already crowded, displaying breadcrumbs may result in a cramped or cluttered layout.
  2. Visual Distraction: In certain designs, breadcrumbs can be visually distracting or overwhelming for users, especially if they are styled in a way that doesn’t align with the overall aesthetic of the website. This can detract from the overall user experience and may cause users to overlook important content.
  3. Redundancy with Browser Navigation: Modern web browsers already provide built-in navigation features, such as the back button, that allow users to retrace their steps. In some cases, relying solely on the browser’s navigation features may be sufficient, rendering breadcrumbs redundant and potentially confusing for users.
  4. Confusion with Multi-Level Structures: Breadcrumbs may not be suitable for websites with complex multi-level structures or dynamically generated pages. If the hierarchy is intricate or changes frequently, breadcrumbs may struggle to accurately represent the path or may become misleading for users.
  5. Implementation Challenges: Implementing breadcrumbs correctly and maintaining their accuracy can be challenging, especially for larger websites with constantly changing content. If breadcrumbs are not properly maintained, broken or incorrect links can frustrate users and diminish their trust in the navigation system.
  6. Localization Issues: Breadcrumbs that rely heavily on text labels may face challenges when it comes to localization and translation. Translating breadcrumb labels into different languages while maintaining consistency and usability can be complex and may require additional development efforts.

While these cons should be considered, they don’t negate the overall benefits of breadcrumbs. With thoughtful design, careful implementation, and considering the specific needs and characteristics of the website and its users, these potential drawbacks can be mitigated or minimized.


Do breadcrumbs have a direct impact on SEO rankings on an ecommerce website?

Yes, breadcrumbs can be beneficial for SEO. Breadcrumbs can help search engines understand the structure of your website and the relationship between different pages. This can help improve your website’s ranking in search results. Additionally, breadcrumbs can help users find the information they are looking for more easily, which can lead to lower bounce rates and higher time on page.

Here are some of the ways that breadcrumbs can benefit SEO:

  • Breadcrumbs can help search engines understand the structure of your website. When search engines crawl your website, they use breadcrumbs to help them understand the hierarchy of your pages. This information can help improve your website’s ranking in search results.
  • Breadcrumbs can help users find the information they are looking for more easily. Breadcrumbs provide users with a clear path back to the home page and other related pages. This can help reduce bounce rates and improve time on page.
  • Breadcrumbs can help improve your website’s click-through rate (CTR). When breadcrumbs are displayed in search results, they can help users understand what your website is about and why they should click on your link. This can lead to an increase in CTR.

Here are some tips for optimizing your breadcrumbs for SEO:

  • Use descriptive breadcrumb labels. Your breadcrumb labels should be clear and concise, and they should accurately reflect the content of the page.
  • Use consistent breadcrumb labels. Your breadcrumb labels should be consistent across all pages of your website. This will help users understand the structure of your website and make it easier for search engines to index your content.
  • Use canonical breadcrumb links. If you have multiple pages with the same content, you should use canonical breadcrumb links to point to the most important page. This will help avoid duplicate content penalties from Google.
  • Rich Snippets: Breadcrumbs can be marked up with structured data using – markup. This markup enables search engines to display the breadcrumbs as rich snippets in the search results, providing users with additional information about the website’s structure. Rich snippets can enhance the visibility and click-through rates of search listings, which can indirectly impact SEO performance. Rich snippets do not improve SEO, directly. Having structured data markup on a page will alone not increase its chances of ranking higher in search results. At least, that’s what Google says about structured data. However, rich snippets can indirectly help your SEO.

Breadcrumbs can be a valuable tool for improving your website’s SEO. By following these tips, you can ensure that your breadcrumbs are optimized for search engines and that they help users find the information they are looking for more easily.

In summary, while breadcrumbs may not have a direct impact on SEO rankings for an ecommerce website, their implementation can improve user experience, facilitate navigation, enhance internal linking, and provide additional context to search engines. These factors can contribute to better SEO performance and potentially lead to improved rankings and visibility for your ecommerce site.




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Richard Agerbeek

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