Don’t forget to Leave Breadcrumbs!

Website Development - Breadcrumbs
Website Development - Breadcrumbs

I assume most of you out there have seen “breadcrumbs” across the top of web pages.  When considering website design/development and search engine optimization, it is important to understand what breadcrumbs are, how to use them most effectively, and why they are important for SEO.

Breadcrumbs are simply a text based navigation displayed across the top portion of web pages to show the page hierarchy.  The term “breadcrumbs” is generally thought of as a way to find your way home.  In this sense that is basically true but they are really used to show where a page falls within the site’s hierarchy.  They are useful for the user as well as for the search engines to determine the purpose and content of that page.  Breadcrumbs can offer an easy navigation path for the user, but a site should still have a very clear navigation so the user does not need to rely on breadcrumbs to move through the site.

How are breadcrumbs implemented?

  • On a given page, regardless of how the user navigated to that page, the breadcrumbs should show the hierarchy starting with the top most page (Home page) all the way down to the sub-page.  An example would be a real estate site that shows home listings.  The breadcrumbs on a page that is specific to an individual listing could be displayed as:  Real Estate > California Homes > Los Angeles Homes > 1234 LA Avenue
  • Each breadcrumb is typically separated by a greater than (>) symbol
  • Notice I did not use “Home” for the home page.  The main page breadcrumb reference should include your main keyword(s).
  • Breadcrumbs in the hierarchy should correspond to the page titles.  It is best when page title and breadcrumbs both use keywords.  In the example above, we used the keyword “Homes” for each component.  The page titles in this example would also be “California Homes”, “Los Angeles Homes”, etc.
  • All the breadcrumbs in the navigation path should hyper link to the given page except the page the user is actually viewing.  In the example above, 1234 LA Avenue would not be a hyperlink because the user would already be on that page
  • Never display breadcrumbs on the home page – naturally there is no need because technically the user has not yet navigated anywhere within the site

Other things to consider:

  • As you may have noticed, breadcrumbs display a navigation path or hierarchy but that may not necessarily correspond to how the user got to that page.  For example, if a user is on the home page of the theoretical real estate website mentioned above, they might see a featured add for 1234 LA Avenue rotating on the home page.  If they click on the add and go that the listing page, the breadcrumbs will not be displayed as Real Estate > 1234 LA Avenue.  They would be displayed as shown above to designate the true hierarchy of the page within the site with refernce to the California and Los Angeles pages.
  • All sites are different and therefore breadcrumbs my be used in different ways depending on the page hierarchy and overall site structure.

From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, breadcrumbs can help boost page relavance and rankings.  The idea behind a comprehensive SEO strategy is not just to get rankings for the home page, but as many pages as possible for the site.  Often times, the long tail keywords will drive traffic to internal pages of a site more specifc to the keyword phase.  Breadcrumbs assist in this process by providing the search engines exactly what they need:

  • user friendly site with a very clear navigation path
  • a perfect outline or structure for the overall framework
  • corresponding terms for text based navigation and page titles
  • proper internal linking

Internal linking is important to note because it follows some of the same theories as when we consider the importance of inbound links to a website.  Inbound links act as a “vote” for that page so when the search engines review a link coming to the site they see it as a positive recommendation (assuming the link is valuable).  In the same way, breadcrumb links act as a vote for the page above them in the hierarchy.  The main page will obviously have the most “votes” and the subsequent internal pages will have fewer votes.

Regardless of all the details above, breadcrumbs are a must…for your users and for proper search engine optimization.  So don’t forget the breadcrumbs!  If you use an Internet marketing company to build your new website, be sure that the firm has a solid understanding of SEO.  This is imperative.  There is no point in building a site that will not have the ability to achieve rankings.

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