I was talking to a client the other day and they asked about one of our recommendations. We mentioned that they might want to add some breadcrumbs to the site to improve navigation and usability. They had no idea what I was talking about. I realized that this may be one of those words we industry insiders use that has no meaning to most other people. For that reason I thought a brief tutorial on breadcrumbs would be in order.

Breadcrumbs are a nice little addition to a website that largely goes ignored but can be a significant help to those that like to use them. They make both usability and navigation easier. The primary purpose of breadcrumbs is to provide a visual indicator to your visitor where they are in the site and give them an easy link "back" to higher up categories.

Home >> Battery Chargers >> 12 Volt >> Solar

The breadcrumb above tells the visitor they are looking at 12 volt solar battery chargers. If the visitor wants to look at all 12 volt battery chargers she can click the "12 Volt" link in the breadcrumb trail to take her there. If she wants to see 24 volt, or 36 volt, or even all the battery chargers offered, she can click the "Battery Chargers" link in the breadcrumb trail and navigate from there.

Simple enough. Now let's talk about implementation.

I've seen enough content and product management systems to know that very few systems create breadcrumb trails properly. I'm working with some sites now that have it all wrong.

On one site the breadcrumbs are an exact duplicate of the Title tag. On another the breadcrumb is an exact duplicate of the page heading. It looked something like this:

Home >> Battery Chargers for Motorcycles, ATVs and Jet Ski's >> Durable 12 Volt Battery Chargers for all Makes and Models >> Solar Battery Chargers | Recharge Your Battery Using the Power of the Sun

This makes for a very long and convoluted breadcrumb trail and IMO is extremely poor implementation of a breadcrumb trail. The purpose of the page title (title tag) or the page heading (hx tag) are completely different than the purpose of the breadcrumb trail.

The Title tag is typically needed to provide a compelling reason to click into the site from the search results. The page heading is a quick, compelling overview of the page. Actually, in some instances it makes sense for the title tag and heading tag to duplicate each other. However it rarely, if ever, makes the same sense with the breadcrumb.

The breadcrumb is, for all intents and purposes, navigation. Its a visual indicator of where the visitor is and a quick link back to higher level categories. If the breadcrumb trail is going to be a duplicate of anything, it should be a duplicate of your navigation links.

This makes the most sense. If a visitor clicks on the "Battery Charger" link in the main navigation, then follows that by clicking on "12 Volt", then narrows even further by clicking "Solar", it makes logical sense that the breadcrumb trail mimics this precisely. This creates a much more succinct and organized breadcrumb trail that is readily recognizable to the visitor.

Home >> Battery Chargers >> 12 Volt >> Solar

For usability purposes, I would avoid trying to "SEO" the breadcrumbs. Use your titles and headings for this and let the breadcrumbs serve their purpose for usability unhindered by additional keyword bloat that is typically done for SEO purposes. If your navigation is built correctly, SEOing the breadcrumbs won't be an issue as it will have already been correctly implemented into the navigation.


August 4, 2009





Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(13)

I have seen this on some site and have it in my training website but I never thought about putting it on my main website for business. I think it would be very helpful. I am using workpress is their a good plugin that does this?

@ Peter - I don't know enough about wordpress, but I'm sure a few searches will tell you.

Great post as always and some good tips. This is definitely something that makes sites better for the user so they can navigate through pages easier. It makes the usability of a site better and doesn't get in the way of the design.

We have breadcrumbs on our site; www.standoffsystems.com but you're right, it may be an insider term. I've never heard it used before and perhaps it explains why Hansel and Gretel keep showing up at our place. I've always just referred to it as a navigation path.
I miss 'breadcrumbs' when they're not present on some of the sites I visit but my wife usually saves a few for me when I get home.

Peter,

Its good to see that you are being active with blog commenting. WordPress has some good plugins available. Give me a call and I will be more specific. It is a snap to install it. I removed it from my site recently but I never had any problems with it.

Thanks,
Boris

Always a good and post worth reading.

This is a good tip on Breadcrumb usage. It is a good guideline and new found knowledge for web site developers and administrators.

One good job again for you!

Great article. Breadcrumbs are so important from a usability perspective but often ignored. One way to implement this on a dynamic site could be to pick up and display the category tree from top, that is from Home to the parent category of the page.
For example, if I have a product page under a sub-category "Cotton Curtains" which is under the category "Curtains" which in turn is under "Furnishings", the CMS can pick up and display the category names as the breadcrumbs on this page. So, in this case, it will be as follows:
Home > Furnishings > Curtains > Cotton Curtains
Good for seo, good for usability!

Insightful tips about how to use breadcrumbs to improve Web site navigation. However, it always amazes me how often I see people ignore these navigation paths as a quick and easy means of knowing where you are in a Web site and getting to another area quickly. Perhaps the first rules of breadcrumb use should be to alert users to their existence and proper use.

@ Melisa - I'm not sure I'd be too concerned about people NOT using them. They often just serve as visual cues. The point is to make sure you have those cues and they are navigable for those that do want to use them.

I have learned of the power of the bread crumbs from YOU (Stoney) a while back from another blog. That was the first I have ever heard of them... although I have seen them before I just never gave them much thought. Then BAM the lights go on... the navigation is good, probably never actually used... However the power for the "crawlers".. just SEO in general ... Yahoo!

So yep >> These would not be here if is was not for you... Click to see a fine example...
Lingerie Lori and you of course invite you to do the same!!

Thanks

Excellent post Stoney. May I add one more good thing about using BreadCrumps. If used wisely, it can add to good internal linking plan in a SEO perspective. All the sub pages that belongs to themain category will have an anchor text link to the parent category. Does that make sense. I best it will add your internal link popularity and help you in SEO

@ Mark - I agree completely Mark!

Bread crumbs make a difference even in small local sites like ours. The value of a good structured site makes it more accessible to the web crawlers and just improves the experience for the end uses.

In my travels across the internet I haven't found a better source of true optimization than at searchengineguide.com Thank you for the wonderful article!

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Quick Tip: Simple Breadcrumb Usage