Have you read the fairytale Hansel and Gretel?
It’s an iconic fairytale, set in medieval Germany about a brother and sister who are abandoned by their parents in the woods to fend for themselves.
Hansel, just before he is taken out of the house, picks up a piece of bread and leaves a trail of bread crumbs for them to follow to return back home.
The idea was novel, but unfortunately, Hansel and Greta find out that the birds have eaten the crumbs and they are now lost in the woods.
And there is a good chance your audience will also feel lost when you don’t guide them through your website.
That’s where breadcrumbs come in – a navigational feature and yet weapon in your SEO arsenal.
If you are not already using breadcrumbs, read on to know what you are missing out on.
What are breadcrumbs in SEO?
Breadcrumbs are a secondary navigation scheme in the form of a text path that shows the users where exactly they are on a website and what was the course they took to get there.
It indicates the page’s position in the site hierarchy helping the users to explore effectively.
Even if you get to a place you do not want to be on a website, you can still find your way back to the main page and browse easily.
Breadcrumbs are one of those things that most of us have come across, found it useful but never gave a thought to.
For example, the file path on the Windows file explorer is a great example of how breadcrumbs work and also proof that the breadcrumbs concept has been around for a while now.
Types of Breadcrumbs
1. Breadcrumbs based on Location or Hierarchy
These breadcrumbs help the user navigate to a higher-level category.
It is the most mainstream option for a website with a sophisticated multi-level hierarchy.
If you look at the image below from Amazon, I am looking at a Trail running shoe.
The broadest category starts with Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry and narrows down until the current page.
But I can head back to the running section or even the athletic section if I want to look at other options.
2. Breadcrumbs based on Path or History
These breadcrumbs show what pages you have visited similar to the back button of the browser.
It displays the user’s unique path that leads to the current page though not the complete path.
It helps the users to return to search results.
It is the least favorite breadcrumb navigation compared to the location-based and attribute-based breadcrumbs.
Speaking of attributes.
3. Breadcrumbs based on Attributes
The best use case for this type of breadcrumbs is the eCommerce websites as they not only use multiple separate categories simultaneously but also specific attributes for products.
They are commonly found in product search results with filters on.
Filters like size, color, and brand can be selected within categories.
Why use breadcrumb navigation
Is it really necessary to use breadcrumb navigation at all? Let us look at the benefits to find out.
1. User experience
It is a secondary navigation aid which means it is an added support for users to navigate a website. If a user somehow lands on one of the internal pages on your website from a different source, breadcrumbs lead the way to show where they stand on the site.
2. Easy for back-tracking
Users can directly jump from one location of the website to another as they choose without having to click the back and forward buttons multiple times on the main navigation and clicking more on your website.
3. Display hierarchy to the users
It gives pictographic information on the hierarchy of every page the users land on which may not be possible on the primary navigation (like the menu).
4. Good for Visual appeal
It is not just usability but also visually appealing to users with minimum effort on your part and without taking up much space on the website too.
5. Additional help
It is like going to a supermarket. Everything is sorted in a neat organized manner. Users can directly choose the aisle they want to go to get exactly what they want without having to go through the hassle of searching the whole place for it.
And as an added bonus they may find other interesting stuff that they did not think they needed.
Why are breadcrumbs important for SEO?
1. Great for internal linking
Yes, they do provide navigational support but they also provide keyword internal linking for your pages.
This will ensure that your pages are well connected and also pass on the “link juice” effectively across the website.
2. Shows up on Google
When you implement breadcrumbs and the necessary schema markup, your navigation starts showing up in the search results.
Google added this feature in 2018 to help users understand where that page is on your site.
This little tweak might help you in your CTR and therefore (hopefully) better rankings.
3. Improves UX and keeps people longer on the website
Breadcrumbs provide important information about the structure and type of content available on the site and help users understand the pages and browse better.
The breadcrumbs display the different content on the website urging the users to browse longer.
4. Increases crawlability
Google uses breadcrumbs to contextualize content on the website and place it in relevant search results.
The internal links across pages and categories increase crawlability impacting organic performance positively.
5. Lower bounce rate
Since breadcrumbs provide more detailed navigation than primary navigation, users have more options to navigate within the website allowing them to back-track a few levels which will lower your bounce rate.
6. Enhanced functionality
A combination of attribute and path-based breadcrumb navigation enables them to find content easily by filtering the content on your website.
While attribute-based navigation helps users search deeper and specifically, path-based navigation helps them return to filters and jump across categories quickly, thus boosting overall UX.
How to add breadcrumbs to WordPress?
Breadcrumbs not only make navigation easy for users and search engines, but they are also easy to install if it is a WordPress website.
To implement breadcrumbs you can either use existing plugins or code them yourself. Some site builders or WordPress themes offer built-in breadcrumb features.
Some of the ways you can enable breadcrumbs to your WordPress website are:
- Using Rank Math:
A. To enable breadcrumbs using Rank Math, install the Rank Math plugin and then click on Rank Math > General Settings > Breadcrumbs.
(If you don’t see this option, make sure you have on Advanced Mode in Rank Math. You can toggle this under Rank Math Dashboard)
B. Once you are on the breadcrumbs settings page, you will notice only one button with which you can toggle the breadcrumbs on and off.
C. Once enabled, you can configure different settings for your breadcrumbs and hit save.
D. Please note, for the breadcrumbs to appear on the page, you will have to copy-paste the code shown on the settings page into your theme template files or use shortcode to make it appear on any page/post of your choice (this applies to most plugins).
- Using Yoast SEO: If you are already using Yoast SEO, you can implement breadcrumbs in a few steps as it is usually disabled by default.
a. Login to your WordPress dashboard
b. Click on SEO in the menu on the left-hand side
c. Click on Search Appearance in the SEO settings > Open the Breadcrumbs Tab
d. Click on the toggle button to Enable Breadcrumbs.
e. Configure the settings to Breadcrumbs as per your preference.
f. Save changes
- Using the WordPress Plugin Breadcrumbs NavXT:
WordPress offers you different Plugins to implement breadcrumbs.
One of the best plugins I can suggest is Breadcrumbs NavXT as it is very easy to implement and you can customize breadcrumbs as you like using its locational breadcrumbs.
Install and activate the plugin and you can then go to Settings > Breadcrumb NavXT page for configuration.
- Using WooCommerce Breadcrumb Plugin:
If you have an eCommerce website using the WooCommerce online store, you can use their plugin to restyle built-in WooCommerce Breadcrumbs.
It is a simple breadcrumb plugin with a clean user interface and is SEO friendly. It offers you tools to change the HTML code that creates these breadcrumbs. To enable you can go to Settings > WC Breadcrumbs and check the Enable box.
Can you add breadcrumbs to WordPress without plugins?
Yes, you definitely can.
But I am not a developer and I have no idea how to so usually in situations like this, I outsource it.
And so should you, if you don’t know what you are doing.
It’s best to keep things simple (and probably go with plugins).
How do you test Breadcrumbs?
Here are some ways in which you can test your breadcrumbs:
- Ensure that the links are not overlapping each other and are clearly segregated by the separator ( symbols like “>” or “|”)
- Use colors to differentiate links and non-links in breadcrumbs (if it is not done by default)
- Ensure that the breadcrumb trail is visible at the top of the website where users can see them.
- Verify that clicking on the links redirects the users to the corresponding pages.
- Ensure that hovering over the link changes the cursor to a hand icon and displays its tooltip/page URL.
- Ensure that the current page of the user is highlighted in the breadcrumbs.
- Ensure that the browser is compatible with the breadcrumbs feature.
Tips for Effective Breadcrumbs – Dos and Don’ts
I think by now you have a clearer idea of what breadcrumbs are and how they work. As a bonus, I will give you a few tips to keep in mind to make your breadcrumbs effective.
- Use breadcrumbs that make sense for your website
Don’t use breadcrumbs because you have to. See if it makes sense for your website in the first place. If you have a simple website with a few pages, a regular menu would suffice.
If you have only low-level pages from different landing pages, you might confuse the users if there are breadcrumbs.
Location-based breadcrumbs may be the popular one, but if your web pages can be managed with categories, path-based breadcrumbs would be more suitable.
- Use breadcrumbs to meet the needs of your audience
Don’t be so caught up with SEO that you forget about your users. While implementing breadcrumbs keep your audience in mind. How they would interact with your website, which information on the website would they most want to access, and what are the most popular and least popular pages. Organize breadcrumbs in a logical way and consistent way for your audience to easily understand with a glance.
- Include the full path in your breadcrumb navigation
Having said the above point, you still need to include the entire path for navigation in the breadcrumb trail. If you skip levels in between the path, users will end up lost again which was exactly what you wanted to avoid in the first place.
- Maintain hierarchy from highest to lowest
Studies show that users spend 80% of their time looking at the left half of a page, and 20% of them on the right half. The breadcrumb trail is a linear format, and it is best that you maintain a hierarchy from the highest (Homepage) on the left to the lowest (current page) on the right.
- Keep the breadcrumb title consistent with the page titles
It is better to keep the breadcrumb titles the same as the page titles they refer to keep your user on the same page. Especially if the titles contain keywords. Remember that the breadcrumbs are also visible on the SERPs.
Breadcrumbs are merely a navigation aid and should not take up too much space and clutter the website. Keep it simple and neat without distracting the user from the actual content of the website yet available when required.
- Don’t create too large or too small breadcrumbs
Remember that breadcrumbs are secondary navigation aids and should not be confused with the primary navigation. If your breadcrumb trail looks bigger than the main menu, it would confuse your users. Don’t keep it too small that it cannot be seen when the user needs it. Keep the size just right.
- Don’t just repeat the navigation bar
If your breadcrumbs are exactly the same as the primary navigation bar, then maybe you don’t need breadcrumbs at all! They would not be serving any additional purpose. So don’t go into the trouble of installing plugins or writing codes for nothing.
- Don’t ignore your navigation bar while favoring breadcrumbs.
While keeping the breadcrumb train different from the navigation bar, avoid relying entirely on the breadcrumbs too. Breadcrumbs are for secondary navigation and are merely supplementary to the navigation bar and not a substitute.
- Don’t use breadcrumbs on the homepage and don’t hyperlink the current page. Both can confuse your reader.
How do you add breadcrumbs schema markup?
Google search uses the breadcrumb markup to categorize the information from the page in the search results. The Google Search Console offers the Breadcrumbs structured data tool which marks up your pages and tells the search engine what information to display to the users.
Structured data is a standardized language that search engines understand to provide structured information about a page and classify the content on the page with headlines describing them to help Google search understand what content it is.
For example, if it is a recipe page, you classify the content into the ingredients, preparation time, cooking time, methods, and so on. The markup is where you mark the content in the structured data which allows Google to display them in the search results (these are called rich results).
Similarly, the breadcrumbs schema markup allows Google to display your navigation on the search results.
To make sure breadcrumbs are implemented correctly, you can either use the breadcrumbs report in Google Search Console (which you will find under enhancements in the GSC dashboard) OR
You can use the rich snippets testing tool here: https://search.google.com/test/rich-results
The Last Crumb
Hansel and Gretel left a breadcrumb trail, but there is also a part of the story where a bird ate them all and they could not find their way back after all.
So though the idea was right, the usage was not well thought-out. In the same way, though it looks too simple to use breadcrumb trail navigation, simple is difficult when you want to ensure that they work effectively, consistently and are user-friendly.
If you are indecisive on whether or not to use breadcrumbs, think of what your audience would want. This simple feature added to your website can make you stand out in the search results.
Have you tried breadcrumb navigation? How did it work for you? Let me know in the comments.
If you are new to SEO do check out a detailed Guide on SEO.