Breadcrumbs: Everything About Breadcrumbs & SEO

Last week I came across amazing words describing how you should treat your website usability:

A website is not like a house – people do not only come in through the front door. They come in willy-nilly, through the roof, the sewer system, the windows and the walls. This IS the nature of the web and you succeed more easily if you create a site that flows with that reality. (Source)

So the first thing to do when analyzing how usable a site is should be to make sure people are able to easily find their way around no matter which page they first landed on. When it comes to huge websites, breadcrumbs can be a great way to help users identify where they are located.

Here are a few essential things you should know about breadcrumbs:

1. Types of Breadcrumbs

Generally, there distinguish three types of breadcrumbs (I usually recommend to stick to the first one because the latter two may create some sort of duplicate content problem):

1. Location-based breadcrumbs: show the user where the current page is located relevant to the whole structure of the site:

Breadcrumbs: lcation

2. Path-based breadcrumbs: visualize the user’s path which brought him to the current page. These breadcrumbs are dynamic and are usually based on the search results. With this type of breadcrumbs one and the same page can be accessed through several paths:

Consulting > Services > Implementation > Service A

Consulting > Services > Optimization > Service A

Consulting > Services > Upgrade > Service A

3. Attribute-based breadcrumbs: list the attributes of the current page:

Breadcrumbs: attributes

2. Keyword-Optimized Breadcrumbs

Many people view breadcrumbs as the additional way to stuff the site with keyword-targeted anchor text. Thus what they end up with looks something like this:

Main keyword (link to home) > Main keyword + word (category link) – Main keyword + word


Posters (link to home) > Celebrity posters (category link) > Angelina Jolie posters

In some cases (like the above one) this really may look handy (and natural) enough but in on average I tend to take a less SEO-centered approach for a couple of reasons:

1. As we’ve discussed previously, too much keyword-focused anchor text may look strange: mind the keyword-in-anchor-text factor in breadcrumbs.

2. Never put SEO before usability: people will know what “Home” link means and where it is going to bring them. Don’t make them guess: I prefer sticking to universally accepted standards.

3. Breadcrumbs and Google

Starting from this November, Google is integrating breadcrumbs navigation within the SERPs which actually makes your listing look more attractive and trustworthy (well, you may want to argue this but that’s a matter of taste, I like it):

Google breadcrumbs

Not in every case the breadcrumb navigation is picked up. The algorithm behind this is certainly a mystery but putting the breadcrumb trail closer to the top of the page source code should help (note: I am not claiming this is the only factor that comes into play but from a few cases I’ve seen, the closeness to the top does seem to make Google recognize the breadcrumbs easier).

4. Breadcrumbs Best Practices

  • Only use breadcrumbs when they help a user: for large, multi-level websites. These are for user first of all; if they also help SEO – that’s an additional benefit. Don’t add breadcrumbs just for the sake of adding good internal anchor text.
  • Do not link the current page to itself (the last step in the breadcrumbs should be un-linked);
  • Do not replace main navigation with breadcrumbs (breadcrumbs visualize your website structure horizontally while the main navigation shows its vertical structure listing its other categories and content types);
  • Use breadcrumbs consistently (this makes the user browsing your website feel safer and allows him to faster familiarize himself with how the site is structured)
  • Do not use breadcrumbs in the page <title> tag (this makes title too long and untargeted):

Breadcrumbs in the page title tag

Any breadcrumbs best practices to share?

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project,
Ann Smarty

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38 thoughts on “Breadcrumbs: Everything About Breadcrumbs & SEO

  1. Great tips, Ann! I especially like, “Only use breadcrumbs when they help a user.”

    Google’s use of breadcrumbs in the SERPS can help the user as well as remove relevant signals of allowing the user to see the actual page name. Eye-tracking studies show that 24% of people viewing SERP snippets look at the URI. Now that breadcrumbs are part of the snippet, this “signal” is key.

    As you said, usability first. And all this must be in consideration as part of the IA process, early on!

    Great overview. Thanks!

  2. Hi guys

    I’m not really familiar with breadcrumbs and its relation to SEO. I’m a newbie when it come to optimizing a website that’s why I am looking for tips to help me enhance my skills.

    Kind Regards

  3. I like your quote, about people entering into a house from anywhere. Does this mean we should put :

    Welcome to on everypage except the home page? :-)

    Anyway, what about situations where site crosslinking takes place. A certain page is relevant in two categories. Now What do you do with breadcrumbs? We don’t want to create duplicate content & duplicate pages. Any best practices on this.

    Food for thought

  4. From a click-through perspective, getting these hierarchy links (breadcrumb) could be more helpful as it gives your site / visitors three or four extra links on the search engine results page. Breadcrumbs should work from higher to lower level and I suggest having the breadcrumbs are logical and makes sense to the user as like, Home > Baby Toys (Category) > Car Seat Toys (Products)

  5. Thanks for the very helpful information about SEO. I enjoyed reading your article and I found it very interesting. Staying tuned for more.

  6. Thanks for the interesting post Ann.

    Your point about duplicate content is a good one. I worked on a site recently where its rankings (Google) were sinking over a period of a couple of months. I traced the decline back to the introduction of path-based breadcrumbs. Though they weren’t dynamic as you describe, they had created unique urls to the same content.

    Re-working these breadcrumbs reduced the url count by 35% and worked a treat: the site started getting more pages indexed and its rankings started trending upwards…

  7. Hey Ann,

    Thanks for the insights and useful post over Breadcrumb, with Google adding new features in their SERP’s it is advised to keep note of every element over site’s. Along with Footer links, Left Nav, breadcumb is something which large site’s can’t ignore. Breadcrumb is an integral part of SEO optimization where site owner has to look into.

    What I feel now after Google started showing breadcrumbs in SERP’s is, we as a site owner has an added advantage of getting our internal site page’s get ranked and counted too for single position achieved in organic listing.

    Thanks Again :-)

  8. Nice breadcrumbs very much ignored your point number 2..

    It works kinda like an autopilot internal linking to me, and then don’t use the main keyword for anchor in article but instead use its sub keyword..

    It does works greatly, but this post make me wanna try other approach..thanks

  9. I’m curious why you say one of the best practices is not to link the current page to itself .. From an SEO standpoint, it seems like it’d be a good thing. What am I missing here?

  10. Great stuff as usual.

    It’s always nice to hear a SEO professional stressing user experience over optimization. I agree that the first example is the best approach.

  11. Hi Ann,

    Wanted to know if you could clarify “Do not link the current page to itself” – what’s your argument for this? I think the usability side of the argument is clear, I’m just interested in whether you approached this recommendation from a different angle?


  12. I think breadcrumbs keep users from being marooned on a page. Even if a user navigates to a certain page they may not know how to get back (other than using their back button). I like to give users a map of the site and how to get back to the page they came from.

  13. Excellent article Ann! I haven’t read much about Breadcrumbs in relation to SEO so it was an interesting read. And yes, as important as SEO is, we can’t lose sight of usability!

  14. Sorry, didnt know about html issues:

    Is that good?
    Home page >> Kategory >> H1 Main Target /H!

    Or here should be STRONG Main target /STRONG and later
    H1 Main target /H1
    It looks a little bit spammy for me, because breadcrubs usually goes right above content.

    Do you have any practices in it?

  15. I was looking at Yelp just now and it looks like they added a class named “bread-crumb” to the bread crumb. Do you think that had any influence in Google finding it and displaying it?

  16. Google's use of breadcrumbs in the SERPS can help the user as well as remove relevant signals of allowing the user to see the actual page name. Eye-tracking studies show that 24% of people viewing SERP snippets look at the URI. Now that breadcrumbs are part of the snippet, this “signal” is key.

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  17. One of the mistakes I commonly see with my internet marketing coaching clients is adding bread crumbs to sites that are too small to warrant their use. This results in the site looking cluttered and confusing visitors. Bread crumbs seem to work best on large ecommerce sites.

  18. Hi Ann, first thanks for the great article, full of practical info as usual, then (hope it is not too late as the post is “old”) a question I cannot find an aswer for: are breadcrumbs useful for the user even in a not-ecommerce site? I understand they are very helpful for very large sites, but I am not sure if I can do the same for a normal blog with a structure of home > categories > (tags) > post. My fear in this case is to add too many inbound links that can alarm Google somehow.

    Thanks in advance for your time and help!

  19. Ann,

    Thanks for the article! Quite informative! Meanwhile, what happens with Dynamic Breadcrumbs when it comes to SEO? Does Google really give dynamic breadcrumb links any credit at all?

  20. Very useful article. In my opinion there’s a fine line with breadcrumbs. If they are misused, search engines might consider them spam. Good information here, thanks Ann.