Home/SEO Guide/Technique/What is a breadcrumb trail and how to use it for SEO?

A breadcrumb is a small text path, usually located at the top of a page. It indicates to the user and to the robots where they are located according to the site map. It is possible to click on each element of the breadcrumb trail to return to the previous level or to the homepage. The breadcrumb trail is an issue that is often addressed during the SEO optimization of a website. And for good reason, it is very important for robots, which rely on this little piece of code to find their way around a site.

It makes the structure of the website visible, frames your page and decreases your bounce rate (important for SEO), since it guides visitors through your site. Basically it traces the visitor's path.

  • This improves the ergonomics and accessibility of the website.
  • The breadcrumb trail links to upwards pages, and contributes to internal linking.

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Contents:

The name's history and origins

The term “breadcrumb trail” originates from the story of Hansel and Gretel, who sow crumbs in the forest to find their way back. just like our breadcrumb trail in SEO! For the record, the French meaning is quite different. Breadcrumb refers to the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur in Greek mythology. According to this legend, Ariadne helped Theseus to defeat the Minotaur thanks to a thread intended to guide him through the labyrinth in which he was lost. This thread helped him find his way. 

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What are the different types of breadcrumb trail?

The breadcrumb trail based on the tree structure 

This type of breadcrumb trail is the most frequently encountered because it is the most intuitive and also the easiest to implement technically. Many CMS use it by default. If we take the example of an e-commerce, it can be presented as follows:

Home > category > subcategory > product

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The breadcrumb trail based on attributes

More complex but still relevant, this breadcrumb is built according to the user's navigation. This breadcrumb appears when a user has performed a search on an e-commerce site and has refined it with filters. The breadcrumb thus takes into account his path much more precisely than the one based on the tree structure. It can then take this form: Homepage > category > attribute 1 > attribute 2; for example:

Home > shoes > leather shoes > brown leather shoes.

Breadcrumb based on browsing history 

This type of breadcrumb trail is based on the user's behavior only. It can therefore seem totally unstructured compared to the initial tree structure of the site. For example: Homepage > category page > product page > subcategory page. It is quite rare to find it on e-commerce sites because it is complex to manage.

What are the advantages of the breadcrumb trail for SEO?

The breadcrumb trail has significant advantages in terms of SEO and user experience.

Google appreciates sites with well-constructed breadcrumb trails

As we mentioned in the introduction, the breadcrumb trail helps robots to better find their way around your site, provided that it is properly designed. In addition, it can appear in search results, making your "blue link" more attractive to users. By integrating structured data, you can even increase your chances of having your breadcrumb trail appear in the SERP.

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Indirectly, the breadcrumb trail also reduces the bounce rate. Indeed, today's search engines are so precise that it is rare to land on a site’s homepage when performing a search. The breadcrumb trail is therefore an effective way to guide your visitors to another part of the site if the page they have landed on does not meet their initial needs. It is an alternate way to navigate, in addition to the menu, which, by reducing the bounce rate, puts you in the good graces of Google and other search engines.

Breadcrumb trails improve user experience

The breadcrumb trail is a sort of reminder of your site map that appears on every page. This element is therefore reassuring for users, who know where they are and how to return to the previous page. Remember that the browser button "previous page" does not always lead to the previous page (on the site) or is not always accessible if you arrive directly from the search engine. The breadcrumb trail is therefore a reassuring way out for users, who thus remain on the site and navigate more fluidly.

How to implement the breadcrumb trail?

The breadcrumb trail must be introduced on all the site’s pages and in priority on product pages and category pages.

If you already have a breadcrumb trail and want to check that it is well implemented, consult the checklists below and check directly on your site.

The checklist of rules to follow:  

        • The breadcrumb trail must show the entire path to the current page, starting from the homepage.  
        • The link anchors placed on each "step" of the path must obviously correspond to the semantics of the step page, but not necessarily to the precise keyword for which you want the latter to be positioned.
        • The last step of the breadcrumb trail, corresponding to the current page, must not be clickable.
        • Optimize the position of your breadcrumb trail by placing it in the upper corner, to the left of the main page title, as in the example below.

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        • Check that there are no inconsistencies by navigating in both directions (ascending and descending).
        • If your site contains only one or two categories, there is no need to set up a breadcrumb trail since the path is short and easy to follow.

Do you absolutely need a breadcrumb trail on mobile?

Yes !

Like for example here on Boulanger: https://m.boulanger.com/ref/1088194

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But you can potentially put it lower down the page, like La Redoute for example:

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You now have the keys to set up and/or check your site’s breadcrumb trail!

Conclusion

The breadcrumb trail is an essential element for every site and particularly for e-commerce sites which generally have a more complex structure. It is an essential reference for users but also for robots. It is therefore important not to neglect it, including on mobile, even if its integration is more complex from a web design point of view.

   Article written by Louis Chevant

Further reading

The complete guide to Internal Meshing

The step-by-step method to build your semantic cocoons, your mesh and the optimal tree structure of your website.

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