Breadcrumbs For SEO - Do They Matter? How Should You Use Them?

Breadcrumbs For SEO

Find out the best-practices for using breadcrumbs for SEO in 2020.

Breadcrumbs are links that act as the navigational aids that websites provide visitors to help them understand where they are on a website, as well as give them quick access to relevant sections of the site that might be of interest.

This typically works in a parent/child relationship or hierarchy, creatively named hierarchy breadcrumbs.

Home > Shoes > Trainers

There are other breadcrumb types such as history based and attribute based, however these aren’t commonly used today and as such aren’t a focus of this article.

Today when people refer to breadcrumbs you can assume that they mean hierarchical breadcrumbs unless stated otherwise.

Hierarchical breadcrumbs are now widely used in Google's Search Results (see image below).

Blog Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs can help improve the user experience and therefore results in a better performing website for everyone.

However there is another reason you should know about breadcrumbs…

SEO & Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are also useful for search engines and their bots known as crawlers.

These crawlers access and move around your website via links, including breadcrumbs.

This can be particularly useful for a number of reasons;

  • It helps search engines access pages easily, this is important for what is called crawl optimization.
  • It helps create relevance between the pages due to the additional link.
  • It helps the search engines better understand what the page is about.

Breadcrumbs therefore are incredibly useful for both users and search engines.

For this reason you could be forgiven for thinking that they are inherently a good thing.

The problem is that breadcrumbs aren’t always a good thing, and that’s because of how they are sometimes implemented incorrectly.

Common Mistakes

There are some common mistakes made with breadcrumbs that you should be aware of.

Mistake #1 - Implementing them on the homepage

This just leaves a single item on the page that is pointing to the homepage which people are already on.

Mistake #2 - Creating a link on the last item

The last item of the breadcrumb, the page you are currently on, often gets included as a link. This isn’t a good idea for several reasons, but suffice it to say that a self-referential link isn’t useful for anyone.

Mistake #3 - Implementing on a parent page

This isn’t always a mistake, as it’s more situational and it depends on your site structure. However, if you can access the parent page via the navigation menu a breadcrumb is a little redundant.

A Better Approach - Best Practices

Instead, it’s much better to follow these two golden rules.

  1. Never create a link on the last item.
  2. Only display breadcrumbs on pages 2 levels deep or more.

An example of #2 would be a page like this:

But you wouldn’t show breadcrumbs on the following pages -

Structured Data - A New Solution?

Breadcrumbs are so useful for search engines that they even have their own structured data markup.

These days that's going to be what is known as Schema.

The benefit of this is that it helps the search engines understand the relevance between pages, and it can also affect the way your site looks in the search results.

This is especially useful for websites that don’t want to display breadcrumbs but do want the benefit of helping craft the relevance as much as possible.

However, removing the regular breadcrumbs in favor of a Schema only option could reduce the crawl friendliness of your site. So in my opinion the best practice is to include both.

Check to see if your site is using breadcrumb schema here.

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