Mastering Breadcrumbs in SEO: Best Practices and How It Helps

What are Breadcrumbs in SEO?

Breadcrumbs are a crucial element of a website’s design structure that appears in the search snippet on SERPs and helps influence the CTR; Hence, breadcrumbs SEO is one of the key aspects of technical and On-page SEO.

It works as a container to help website visitors and search engine bots understand the position of a web page (the page where they have landed from SERPs) in the website’s hierarchy and navigate reverse from there to the top.

It helps website visitors ensure that they can expect a relevant answer on the webpage and help decide whether the page will satisfy their needs if visited, directly influencing the CTR of a web page.

Since this improves their user experience, search engines like Google and Yahoo give a lot of weightage to Breadcrumbs SEO and use the breadcrumb structure of a web page to influence its rankings indirectly. However, search engines like Google can automatically show breadcrumbs for your website that follow your website structure.

Based on the technical usage, breadcrumbs can be of three different types, serving various purposes for different kinds of websites.

Hierarchical Breadcrumbs

The hierarchical breadcrumbs structure is the most common of all the types. It is when a website has a simple hierarchy structure where each web page has only one parent page, following back to the home page.

Attribute-based Breadcrumbs

This breadcrumbs structure is polyhierarchical in nature and most commonly used by some eCommerce marketplaces. In such websites, structure by default isn’t a linear hierarchy; thus, a product page can traced back in multiple categories, sub-categories, or collections.

Hence, website visitors and search bots can visit the same product page from various category pages. However, it causes duplicity issues on the website, and to resolve this, canonical tags are used on a product page level. It means that a product page primarily exists in a single category or collection and gets cited back from other category or collection pages.

History-based Breadcrumbs

This breadcrumbs structure is similar to the Attribute-based breadcrumbs structure. The only difference is that the breadcrumbs trail has no significant structure. Instead, it varies based on how the user has reached that page.

Moreover, the first node in the breadcrumbs structure takes the user to the previous page they come from, similar to a back button.

Do Breadcrumbs Help in SEO?

Loved by Google and Yahoo

Breadcrumbs are favored by search engines like Google and Yahoo who prefer showing breadcrumbs structure in their SERP snippets instead of web page URLs.

Apart from just being a part of SERP snippets, Search giant Google uses breadcrumbs to find internal pages on a website.

Helps Pass Link Equity between Pages

Breadcrumbs connects the deepest pages, from its parent pages to the home page, which helps distribute the link equity very well up to the home page.

Strengthen Internal Link Structure and Help with Crawling and Indexing the Pages

Breadcrumbs, especially the hierarchical breadcrumbs, help strengthen the internal link structure. So, even if a page isn’t internally linked with other pages, search bots as well as website visitors can easily trace back to all the parental pages and the home page. 

As a result, it helps each of the pages on the website get crawled by Search bots and have them indexed on SERPs.

Improves User Experience

Breadcrumbs clarifies the position of a page in a website hierarchy and tells search users where they’ll land on the website when clicking on a web page in SERPs. It helps boost their confidence in the website towards getting a relevant result and contributes to user experience.

Easy Navigation to the Higher Level of Pages in the Site Hierarchy

Breadcrumbs serve as a perfect way to navigate to any parental topic or home page. A website visitor can simply click on a desired node in the breadcrumbs trail and jump on it without having to search for it.

Help Reduce Bounce Rate and Influence CTR

Breadcrumbs help search users understand the relevancy of the page simply by looking at the breadcrumbs’ structure in the SERP snippet, which positively contributes towards reducing the bounce rate and influencing the click-through rate.

Helps Reduce the Page URL Length

With breadcrumbs acting as an identifier to know the hierarchical position of a web page, you don’t need to specify the complete of a webpage in its URL and simply keep the URL short and precise.

It significantly helps maintain the blog page URLs’ length since you wouldn’t need to include category or subcategories as a URL attribute and can simply mention the page slug.

How to Optimize Breadcrumbs for SEO Benefits?

Breadcrumbs for SEO benefits are implemented and optimized at two ends of a website – 1) On-page elements and 2) Breadcrumbs Schema Markups.

By optimizing it at both ends, you can visibly expose your website structure to website visitors to help improve user and page experience.

Breadcrumb On-Page Element

Implement a breadcrumb trail starting with the home page. In this breadcrumb trail, for every breadcrumb node – write anchor tags using the most relevant and simple keywords, usually the head keywords.

Breadcrumbs Schema Markup

Breadcrumbs can be optimized using BreadcrumbList schema markup for SERPs.

It can be implemented in your website using Microdata format or by using JSON-LD format or can simply by using an SEO plugin if your website is built using any of the CMSs like WordPress, Shopify, Magento, etc. Breadcrumbs can be verified using the Rich Results Test by Google.

Best Practices for Breadcrumbs SEO

Breadcrumb Nodes Must Only Link to a Unique Page

Each breadcrumb node in the breadcrumbs trail shouldn’t contain links to a web page’s section, i.e., any of the links in the breadcrumb trail shouldn’t take the users to a content section on a web page upon click.  It must only link to a unique web page on the website.

The Breadcrumbs Structure should Represent the Website’s Hierarchy

The breadcrumbs trail should show the website’s structural hierarchy clearly. A hierarchical breadcrumbs trail follows this structure very well.

For websites where website structure is polyhierarchical, i.e., a web page can have two parent web pages, such as many eCommerce store structures where a product page is a part of multiple categories or collection pages.

Available across All Internal Pages Consistently

The Breadcrumbs trail should be consistently available on every page of the website.

The only exception to this is the home page of the website.

Visible across All Devices Consistently

The breadcrumbs trail on a website should be consistent across all devices, be it desktop, mobile, or tablet.

Some websites hide the breadcrumbs trail on mobile devices or any devices where screen size is limited and enable their access only to search bots, which is a bad practice. Remember that breadcrumbs are crucial for both the users as well as search bots.

Must be Placed above the Page Heading

The breadcrumbs should always be visible above the headings (H1, H2, etc.) on the page to be clearly visible to the users.

Show Complete Navigation Path, from Home to Current Page

The breadcrumbs trail should always have a complete trail down to the current page in the entire breadcrumb structure. Using ellipses (…) in breadcrumbs to shorten their length is a bad practice.

Use Greater Than (>) Rather Any Other Symbolic Separator

Many websites use forward arrows (>>), forward slash (/), and other types of symbols as a separator. The greater than (>) symbol takes less space and clearly refers to the next breadcrumb node in the trail.

Kept in the Head Section of the HTML Code

In the HTML code of the website, the breadcrumbs should always be defined in the <head>…</head> section so the search bots can easily detect which page they are crawling.

Shouldn’t Take Much Space on the Device Screen

The breadcrumbs text should be in small size. Using a large font size would take too much space and take the user’s attention away from the main content of the page.

Should be Crawlable without Enabling JS

Ideally, breadcrumbs shouldn’t be loaded on the page using JavaScript. If a user has a slow internet connection, the breadcrumbs might take forever to be visible.

However, if you are only optimizing your website for Google SERPs, then you can dynamically add breadcrumbs to a page by generating breadcrumbs structured data (JSON LD format) either using Google Tag Manager or injecting custom JS to the page.

The Last Node Mustn’t Contain Any Link

The last node in the complete breadcrumbs should not link to any page. Because, when the page is being crawled by the search bots, it makes the bots end up in a loop.

Should Be Defined in a Single Row to Represent a visible Chain Structure

The breadcrumbs trail should only take one row to save space on the page. If the breadcrumbs structure is big due to large anchor text and taking two rows, then it’s best to use CSS to show the hovering “next” button so the user can check the complete breadcrumbs structure.

Shouldn’t Target Keywords Artificially

The breadcrumbs are a design element that happens to have their SEO benefits. Artificially targeting keywords in your breadcrumbs is a bad practice.

Instead, focus on using precise anchor text that conveys a clear meaning yet takes less space on the page.

Don’t Mirror Page Headings

The anchor text in the breadcrumbs shouldn’t mirror the page headings to save space on the page and keep the breadcrumbs trail as small as possible logically.

Start with the Home Page as the First Node

Breadcrumbs structure should always be with the home page. The only exception is when using the history-based structure, which usually starts with a clickable anchor text that serves the purpose of a back button.

How to Check Breadcrumbs in Google Search Console?

  1. Log in to your Google Search Console account.
  2. Visit the “Enhancements” menu given at the left-side menu bar.
  3. Click on the “Breadcrumbs” sub-menu that’ll take you to the breadcrumbs page of GSC, where you can also check if any breadcrumbs issues on your website exist and their reason.

You can also select and deselect the “Invalid” and “Valid” filters on the graph to see when and what issue existed and compare the valid pages with invalid pages.

FAQs

Are Breadcrumbs necessary for every website?

No. Breadcrumbs serve as structural navigation on websites with multi-level hierarchy structures. If a website is small, such as a one-page website, or has only a two-level structure, i.e., home page and landing page, then there’s no need for breadcrumbs in the website structure.

Apart from that, if the website doesn’t have a logical structure, there’s no need to implement breadcrumbs.

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