A Guide on Breadcrumbs: What Are They, When to Use Them & Their Impact on SEO

Breadcrumbs help both Google bots and visitors navigate your site - and help you improve your SEO.

Do your SEO right, and your website shows up prominently when someone Googles for a product or service that your business offers. 

Of course, the reverse is true as well. In fact, there’s a common joke amongst SEOs:

It may sound like an exaggeration, but there’s a reason why businesses engage SEO services. Every business needs sales, and there is huge value in being visible on Google to send relevant traffic to your website.

Now, there are plenty of facets to SEO, but today, we’ll be focusing on the topic of breadcrumbs.

What are breadcrumbs?

The breadcrumbs that we’re talking about may not be connected to Hansel and Gretel, but they’re just as useful. 

They help both Google bots and your visitors navigate your site, and they’re a part of on-page SEO optimization tactics.

Here’s a quick definition of breadcrumbs according to Google:

But what does that actually mean?

A small text path, breadcrumbs are usually located at the top of a page. For instance, a web page titled “Fantasy Book Award Winners” could have a breadcrumb trail that looks something like this:

Home – Award Genres – Fantasy – Award Winners

That way, if a visitor wanted to reverse the process and go from the award winners’ page to a directory of award genres, he or she could easily do so.

Likewise, this allows Google bots to map a clear understanding of your website’s hierarchy.

In fact, Google itself has even added breadcrumbs to their search result pages!

Why do you need breadcrumbs?

You want Google to love your site

As we’ve mentioned, breadcrumbs help Google understand how your website is structured. And when Google has a better understanding, it has an easier time crawling (aka analyzing the content / code on your site) – which then helps with your organic rankings. 

You want to improve user experience and reduce your bounce rate

“A bounce is a single-page session on your site. [This happens] when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits. Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page.”

Source: Google

Breadcrumbs tend to provide a better user experience by preventing visitors from getting lost on your site. 

This is especially so for first-time visitors. If you’re in a new location for the first time, you’re likely to find recognizable landmarks to aid your navigation. This is similar for websites.

Plus, if people enter your website through organic search, a page other than your homepage could be the entry point. 

Having breadcrumbs helps reduce friction by showing people a way out to other parts of your website. After all, if a certain page doesn’t meet your visitor’s needs, it’s always better to have him or her navigate to another page on your site, rather than exiting it.

Consequently, this increases the amount of time visitors spend on your site, sending signals to Google that you’ve got a great site searchers love.

And when Google knows searchers love your site, it’ll display your site more prominently in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).  

Different types of breadcrumbs

All three have specific purposes, but you can combine multiple breadcrumb types on your website.

1. Hierarchy-based breadcrumbs

The most common type of breadcrumbs, these tell visitors where they are in your website’s structure.

You can often see hierarchy-based breadcrumbs (also known as location-based breadcrumbs) on eCommerce sites.

For example, if your visitor landed on a page selling Rolexes, they could follow a breadcrumb trail such as:

Homepage – Male – Accessories – Watches – Rolex

If you have a multiple-level site hierarchy with plenty of products and categories, we’d suggest getting an SEO company to help you implement hierarchy-based breadcrumbs – or you might just spend a ton of time trying to do it yourself!

Bonus tip: If you have a visible menu, make sure your breadcrumb trail doesn’t just duplicate it, but provide specific value for that exact searcher.

2. Attribute-based breadcrumbs

Attribute-based breadcrumbs are also commonly seen in eCommerce sites, to explain the relationships between different pages. As the name states, these breadcrumbs show attributes that a visitor has selected.

Both hierarchy and attribute-based breadcrumbs can be used simultaneously. For instance:

Home > Product category > Color > Size > Shape

The hierarchy-based breadcrumbs appear in the beginning, followed by the attribute-based links, which appear if a user has selected attributes or filters.

3.  History-based breadcrumbs

History-based (also known as path-based) breadcrumbs show the visitors their path through your site.

These breadcrumbs are the ugly duckling of breadcrumb trails because they can be easily replaced with Back buttons, and they’re obsolete in the vast majority of cases.

However, if they’re combined with attribute-based or hierarchy-based breadcrumbs, history-based breadcrumbs may still work. For instance,

Back to results | Home > Product category > Color > Size > Shape

When should you use breadcrumbs?

Breadcrumbs can be pretty useful, but there are cases that are exceptions.

You shouldn’t use breadcrumbs for:

  • Single-level sites
  • Landing pages

If there aren’t multiple pages to navigate, there’s no reason to implement breadcrumbs.

However, you should implement breadcrumbs if you want to optimize:

  • eCommerce sites with plenty of categories and pages
  • A blog with many posts
  • Knowledge bases

If you don’t have defined categories (e.g. Shoes and Socks; Fantasy Books and Mystery Books), a breadcrumb trail can be even more confusing for visitors and bots. Avoid it in that case.

SEO services for multiple-level websites

Breadcrumbs are a great way to improve your site’s user experience, but there are plenty more ways to do so. 

If you have a multiple-level site such as an eCommerce store, DIY-ing your SEO will be a massive effort on its own. 

Professional SEO help might just ease your burden – just say hello and we’ll be happy to take a look at your site and advise further 🙂

Joey Wang

Joey Wang

Joey is captain of Appiloque's spaceship. He spends his time charting the company's future and spearheading innovation projects that make business sense. Occasionally, he gets mistaken for a computer since he doesn't need a calculator and overheats when running too many processes.

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