Adding breadcrumbs to your website helps Google better understand your content from a hierarchical perspective.
It also aids users in understanding their current position on your website.
Breadcrumb navigation seems good for both Google and users.
But does that mean it has a direct impact on your organic search rankings?
Let’s find out.
The Claim: Breadcrumb Navigation Is a Ranking Factor
Breadcrumbs drew the attention of the SEO community when Google first added them to the search results in 2009. That was when the search engine rolled out enhancements on how site hierarchies are displayed in its search results.
Prior to the change, Google usually showed a green web address, or URL, at the bottom of each search result to let users know where they’re headed:
The green URL was replaced with a hierarchy showing the precise location of the page on the website (AKA, breadcrumbs):
Sites that already offered hierarchical breadcrumbs in their navigation benefited from this change, as their SERP listing differed from the regular search result.
As Aaron Wall explained at the time:
“Each breadcrumb is a clickable link to the associated page (which could increase traffic to the target site in some cases)…”
In the years that followed, some SEO professionals began speculating that breadcrumb navigation links could be a ranking factor.
The Evidence for Breadcrumb Navigation as a Ranking Factor
To understand how the idea of breadcrumb navigation as a ranking factor came to be, it’s important to understand how SEO pros approached it back then.
In the early 2010s, breadcrumbs were seen not only as a tool to ease website navigation but also as an internal link structure to optimize.
Josh McCoy offered this tip in his 2010 article, “What Google Thinks of Your Site:”
“To create an optimal process of breadcrumb linking, make sure you’ve applied your keyword strategy alongside the information architecture of your site content.
Your URL structure should include keyword rich and content relevant category/folder naming conventions and ensure that site content falls into the appropriate categories.”
In 2011, Catfish Comstock cited breadcrumb navigation as one of three important link structures to optimize, along with the global navigation template and “alternative link structures.”
Speculations of breadcrumbs being an SEO ranking factor surfaced in a 2012 blog post by Matt Green of Ethical SEO Consulting, titled “Breadcrumb Navigation Links as an On-Page Optimization Factor.”
“The anchor text used in links continues to be a substantial ranking factor, despite recent algorithmic updates from Google which have reportedly diluted their importance. When breadcrumb navigation is enabled on a website, it creates anchor text links on every page of the website which link back to the home page of the site.
This, ladies and gentleman, is how you can use breadcrumb links as a positive ranking factor for targeted keywords.”
Brian Dean of Backlinko then included it in his list of Google’s 200 Ranking factors without offering much explanation or proof.
The Evidence Against Breadcrumb Navigation as a Ranking Factor
The way Google displays search results has evolved over the years, but Google still incorporates breadcrumbs in its SERPs.
Although Google recommends that website owners and developers implement breadcrumbs, no one from the search engine has ever gone on record to confirm that it is indeed a ranking factor.
The closest acknowledgment of Google’s stance on breadcrumb navigation is from 2017, when Google’s Gary Illyes was asked: “What’s Google’s stance on breadcrumb navigation? Do those links pass value? If so, should they?”
We likes them. We treat them as normal links in e.g. PageRank computation
— Gary 鯨理／경리 Illyes (@methode) June 22, 2017
In 2021, Google’s John Mueller tweeted that Google uses breadcrumbs for crawling (to find internal links) and for rich results (structured data). He also added that location of the breadcrumbs on a webpage “doesn’t matter for SEO.”
Breadcrumb Navigation as a Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
Breadcrumbs help provide a positive user experience to website visitors and reinforce the site’s structure for search engines.
In addition, breadcrumbs naturally build more internal links, thus pushing more PageRank to those pages. Potentially, breadcrumbs may impact CTR, though that is more of an indirect benefit.
But adding breadcrumb navigation to your website pages doesn’t guarantee any significant boost to your rankings. Plenty of websites rank quite well without using breadcrumbs.
And while Google recommends the usage of breadcrumbs to developers and website owners, this is more from a UX and usability standpoint as opposed to SEO and ranking.
Featured image: Paulo Bobita/SearchEngineJournal