What are Breadcrumbs and Why are They Important for SEO?

Those who’ve been in the business of website development/management, know a site has many elements. There are the core ones that are fundamental and known even to people outside the field – things like the domain name, or embedded videos. Go in a little deeper, and you’ll find stuff like specialized blocks used in creating a page. Going further, …etc. – you get the idea. The thing is, as your knowledge grows, you’ll find that the main differences in all top sites are small nuances that some have, and others don’t.

Breadcrumbs are a seemingly small addition to your pages that will both improve your SEO rating and is a quality of life upgrade for your site’s visitors.

Naturally, the first thing you’ll need to know is what exactly are breadcrumbs. Well, most likely, you’ve already encountered them on various sites without even knowing. Namely, breadcrumbs are text paths displayed on a page that shows how you got there. They work just like the path line in Windows (My Computer>Disk C>Program Files>WordPress) moving from the homepage further in.

An example would be Home>Sports Equipment>Nike>Football Gloves. Of course, the line can be shorter or longer depending on how deep into the site you are, and every “crumb” is a link back to the place you’ve just been, which makes it easier to navigate.

Breadcrumbs come in several types

However, three can be singled out as the most common:

Hierarchy based

These breadcrumbs are probably the most used of the three. You’ll be able to easily see the structure of the site and navigate through it with this breadcrumb trail. Essentially, it’s a line following downward from the homepage to your current destination. An example would be Home>Contact>Store Locations.



For an attributes based format, you’ll need your database to be flawless. Since most of the time, this approach is used on eCommerce sites, this should present a problem, taking into account that the goods for sale are usually well categorized and assigned detailed, specific attributes. Looking at it, you can see it winding down, much like a filter that got you to your current location on the site. An attribute line would be – Home>Shoes>Brand>Size>Color.


These breadcrumbs are actually implemented in all browsers and even windows in your OS – well, kind of.

History-based breadcrumbs work like the “back” button.

Once you reach a site, your path through it is documented, and you can revert back a step to get to the previous page you’ve been on. This process can then be repeated until you’re back where you’ve started. While the usage generally isn’t on par with the other two examples, it’s mostly used while conducting searches to quickly get you back to the previous page ta change the parameters. The line would be Home>Previous Page>Current page, where the previous and current pages are cycled as you go back through them.

Why breadcrumbs are important and how they affect SEO

Now that you know what breadcrumbs are and how they work let’s figure out why they are important to a site and how they’ll impact your SEO rating. Since they primarily affect navigation, it’s safe to say that your visitors will spend more time on your site going through pages if those pages are easily accessible to them. That means that breadcrumbs will have a positive impact on your traffic. The visitors that spend the most time on your site are also the ones that will, because of the added navigation, benefit from your breadcrumbs the most. Going 15 or 20 minutes in, it’ll get hard to orientate, and these will be a savior.

 SEO Strategy

Finally, getting to the SEO part – i.e., how and why breadcrumbs can improve the rating. The “why” is relatively simple, actually. Google uses them as one of its ranking factors in search results. That alone should be enough to warrant serious contemplation about using them. The simple fact is, all things equal, if you’re using them and your competitors aren’t, you’ll rank higher. You’ll also find that your bounce rate is reduced, which is crucial nowadays because going back for additional searches means your visitors will have a probability to dissipate after their initial query.

As we all know, Google has evolved immensely over time and has used more broad, complex algorithms for its results. Among other things, breadcrumbs are displayed with search results, emphasizing their importance. Google and your visitors will get an inkling in the structure of your site, making it more attractive to both parties. Gone are the days where visitors target home pages. Instead, everyone is searching for their own specific detail, and the closer they can get to it, the better. Because of this, having a clear cut structure means your pages will feature more frequently in the results.

Just to be clear, though, breadcrumbs aren’t a magical switch that will make your site and pages go from the fifth page to the first result on a search.

Instead, they’ll help you get over the hump if other aspects of your site are up to standard and propel you those last few steps, making your site a page one mainstay.

Final thoughts

In the end, there are a couple of small things to consider before and while implementing breadcrumbs to your site. The most common type – hierarchy breadcrumbs aren’t as effective for sites with a shallow structure (anything with less than three hierarchy levels), but history based ones always work.

You should change the link names with shorter keywords, so the lines don’t get overstuffed. Separating the keywords should be done with arrows instead of slashes, or vertical bars for display reasons. The line should be on the top of the page, in the same space on every page, so visitors get accustomed to them quickly. Finally, breadcrumbs can’t replace a conventional navigational tool; they are used to enhance navigation options on a site, but can’t take on the entire burden by themselves.

Breadcrumbs should be part of every site simply because of the aforementioned navigation enhancement. Add to that the SEO impact, and you’ve got yourself a very useful tool that ticks several boxes when thinking about site quality. Because of this, they are something worth considering, in some of their forms, for any type of site you’re running.