If you’re hearing about breadcrumb menus for the first time, you might be wondering “How can breadcrumb menus affect your SEO?” Like many relatively recent developments, there are a few misconceptions that need to be laid to rest. There are also a few benefits that can be confirmed with evidence and examples, which you will soon discover.
To set the record straight breadcrumb menus have nothing to do with food and are not menus made from wheat products. These wondrous marvels are actually very helpful for navigational purposes and work to improve your SEO, user experience and crawlability.
So, what exactly are breadcrumb menus?
Breadcrumb menus are navigational elements made up of text links that show a user where they are on a website. Most breadcrumb menus are commonly found at the top of a web page, beneath the title of a page, or just before the main body of content begins.
The text links are linked to internal pages within the website. The first is usually a link to the homepage. Depending on the type of breadcrumb menu users can use these internal links to find their way back to pages they have already visited or to larger category pages within the website-including the homepage if they want to start over.
In this example, the user can see the categories that the blog post is placed in. The author is also linked so if a user decides they would like to see more articles in those categories or by that author they can click on the links to take them there.
The term “breadcrumbs” originates from the story of Hansel and Gretel, where Hansel left a trail of breadcrumbs to find his way back home. It didn’t work exactly the way he wanted but the concept translates directly as a metaphor for allowing users to find their way home and to easily navigate a website.
The SEO benefits of breadcrumb menus
What’s the point of implementing something if you don’t get any benefits from it? Well rest assured; these bad boys are something you’re going to want to get on your web pages ASAP. Not only do breadcrumb menus enhance the user experience, but they improve your SEO.
Google loves breadcrumbs
It’s obvious that breadcrumb menus are good for SEO because Google came out and said so itself. Click here to see its documentation titled “A better presentation of URLs in search results”
In 2018 Google began using breadcrumbs on their own search engine result page to categorize and add context to URLs listed on a search engine result page.
In fact, Google believed it to be important enough to add breadcrumbs as a featured snippet with the provided structured data markup.
When Google encourages specific changes to how we build and develop websites it’s a hint at what will trigger a positive reaction from the algorithm. Keep in mind Google’s mission statement: “…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
The changes they recommend are in an effort to improve the user experience or improve the online experience in general.
Improving page speed is a huge movement that Google has pushed. While there are still many sites that rank highly and aren’t lightning-quick, the improvement in the page speed department is a direct ranking factor. Why? It improves the user experience.
While we don’t have a verbatim quote from a Google rep that came out and said “Breadcrumb menus will improve your ranking”, it’s obvious they consider it better SEO. Google implements it themselves and from an objective point of view, they make navigation easier.
Better user experience
The convenience of being able to backtrack from where you landed on a website or see where you are on a website boosts the quality of a user’s experience. It gives context and structural awareness of the content that is housed within a website.
When people can’t figure out where to go on a website, they get frustrated and are likely never to return again. Breadcrumbs solve this problem by providing alternative options that make sense.
While the homepage can still rank for many terms, not all people will find your site by landing on the homepage. Most optimized websites that rank organically have multiple entry points.
When a user enters a website from a blog post or landing page, they may not be familiar with what your website has to offer. A breadcrumb menu shows them a trail to other related pages or gives a better understanding of page hierarchy on the website.
Here you can see if a user lands on a page explaining HVAC SEO, they can find their way to the home page or travel through the hierarchy of pages.
With breadcrumbs, at any point in a user’s journey through a website, they can bail on everything and return to the homepage. Giving them this option through an efficient site structure reduces anxiety, and confusion and allows them to regroup and see what your site has to offer.
Reduces a website’s bounce rate and increases click-through rates
Breadcrumb menus give users more options to navigate to more pages. This not only reduces the chances a visitor will bounce but also increases the time spent on the website by providing more pages to click through.
Rather than clicking off of a page when something isn’t quite apparent, a user can see where they might be able to find a better page. Using the location-based breadcrumb, a user can broaden their search by moving closer to the homepage onto category pages higher up in the page hierarchy.
As a bonus, reduced bounce rates are directly linked with higher click-through rates and longer site sessions. These are all positive statistics you want to see on your analytic reports. Search engines like to see them too!
3 popular types of breadcrumb menus
While most people lean towards one type of breadcrumb menu, it should be noted that there are options. The type of menu you choose to implement will depend on the type of website you have. Choose wisely for best results.
Location-based breadcrumbs (Hierarchy-based breadcrumbs)
These are the most popular type of breadcrumb because it shows the user where they are on your website. Users develop a better understanding of your website structure, and they are able to return to the homepage at any time.
An example of this can be seen on Walmart’s website. It’s very easy to follow the categories that mirror the URL structure:
History-based or path-based breadcrumb menus
These types of menus are based on what pages you last visited. They are the true digital representation of the Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs! This type of breadcrumb is sometimes just a replacement for the “back button” like in this example:
These menus are also used when perusing resource websites or going from article to article.
Attribution-based breadcrumb menus
Attribution-based menus are those that list the categories of the page or product. These are most commonly used in eCommerce sites to create a relationship between products and facilitate more options to find more of the same product within similar categories.
Attribution breadcrumbs can also show the filtered options that a user selects from the page.
How to implement breadcrumbs on your WordPress website
If you’re using WordPress, adding breadcrumbs to your website can be relatively easy. You can use plugins to do almost anything with WordPress. Even if you’re using a custom theme or page builder, a few additions to the code will land you the breadcrumb menu of your choice.
Use the Yoast plugin
Yoast is almost every SEO’s go-to in the WordPress plugin family. Apart from optimizing the content on your pages and posts, this plugin is also good for adding breadcrumbs.
Simply follow these steps:
- Click on the tab that says “Yoast SEO” on the left menu in your WordPress dashboard.
- Scroll to the bottom and click on “Enabled” to activate the breadcrumbs on your website.
- For more instructions on how to set up breadcrumbs on individual pages, posts or if your site uses a custom page builder, click here to read Yoast’s instructions on how to implement breadcrumbs
Use a WordPress plugin
As mentioned above, you can literally find almost any plugin to do your bidding when you have a WordPress site. That remains true for breadcrumb menus! Just do this:
- Go to your plugins page.
- Click “add new”.
- Enter “breadcrumb menu” in the search box.
- Take your pick!
While there may be some really good plugins available from here, it’s probably best practice to go with the plugin that’s most popular. Breadcrumb NavXT is by far the most used and seems like it’s the most obvious choice from the selection above.
Use a paid plugin for page builders
While page builders are an annoyance for most SEOs there comes a time when you must deal with them. If you’re not good with code or not comfortable inserting the necessary codes in the right places a paid plugin is a safe bet to save time and headache.
For example, Divi Builder is a large thorn in everyone’s side, yet it is being used on many websites. Rather than break your head over why it doesn’t load properly or integrate well with anything else on your site, just get the plugin for $9 and move on with your life.
Or just never use Divi.
If you’re one of the poor unfortunate souls that own a Wix or Squarespace website (God help you) you will need to write the code in manually since they don’t seem to offer a plugin for breadcrumb menus.
WooCommerce breadcrumb plugin
WooCommerce already comes with breadcrumbs built into the software. We’re using WooCommerce for this site here which automatically populates a location-based breadcrumb on all of our pages:
If you have an eCommerce website and are using WooCommerce, you can restyle the existing breadcrumb menus to something more to your taste.
Breadcrumb menu best practices
While it may seem fairly straightforward, there are some do’s and don’ts to be aware of when you are adding breadcrumbs to your pages and posts. Here are a few breadcrumb best practices to include in your implementation.
Homepage link comes first
The first link on the menu should be the homepage. Everyone understands this is the main highway with the most options on a well-designed website. Users will be confident that they can “eject” to the homepage whenever they feel a little lost and begin their trail again.
Display the entire path
Why only show a partial trail when you’re trying to give users context? The entire path provides a better understanding of navigation, categories, and context. Don’t give any of that up.
Use a bold font for the current page
A bold font makes it clear to users that they are on the exact same page. Additional clarity is never a bad thing to offer.
Avoid linking to the current page
Don’t link to the page the user is currently on. This only adds confusion to the navigational system. Links are intended to take a user from one page to another, so keep it that way.
Breadcrumb should reflect the URL of the page
If you’ve built your site with the appropriate structure the breadcrumb menu should be an identical reflection of the page URL. Any differences between the two could create confusion through the inconsistencies in the path.
Place your breadcrumbs at the top of the page
Just like your navigation bar, people expect to find breadcrumbs at the top of a web page. Place them just above the body of the content so that they are easily accessible and easy to see.
So, we’re back to the question, “How can breadcrumb menus affect your SEO?” The answer is undoubtedly a positive addition to your on-page optimization game. When you look at the bigger picture, SEO has definitely evolved to incorporate more tactics that enhance the user experience. Adding more weapons to your digital marketing arsenal is crucial to your success in the search results.
We’ve seen the quality of content go in this direction. We’ve seen page speed take on this role, and now we’re seeing breadcrumb menus play this role.
While implementing breadcrumb menus will not catapult you from the 5th page of Google to the #1 position, they are still considered an excellent addition to your on-page SEO. The small effort you need to put forth to incorporate this into your website is well worth the rewards!
Melissa Collins is a digital business developer based in Wilmington, Delaware. Her primary focus is on digital marketing such as SEO and content marketing. She enjoys email marketing and writing for Digital Strategy One in her free time.