What are breadcrumbs? Why are they important for SEO?

What are breadcrumbs? Why are they important for SEO?
What are breadcrumbs? Why are they important for SEO?

What are breadcrumbs? Why are they important for SEO?

Breadcrumbs are an important part of almost every good website. These little navigational aids don’t just tell people where they are on your site, but they also help Google work out how your site is structured. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to add these helpful little pointers. Let’s take a look at how breadcrumb navigation works.

What are breadcrumbs?

A breadcrumb is a small text path, often located at the top of a page indicating where the user is on the site. On yoast.com, for instance, the path to our Yoast SEO plugin page is Home > WordPress Plugins > Yoast SEO for WordPress. This breadcrumb trail immediately shows you where you are. Every step of that path is clickable, all the way back to the homepage.

But why is this navigational help called a breadcrumb? When Hansel and Gretel went into the woods, Hansel dropped pieces of bread onto the ground so they could find their way home if they got lost. These breadcrumbs eventually became the model for the ones we see on websites these days.

You can see the breadcrumb clearly in Google

They also appear in Google search results, and you can take advantage of this if you use Yoast SEO or add the correct form of structured data to your site. Breadcrumbs in search results give users an easy-to-understand overview of where the page sits on your site.

Yoast SEO automatically adds the necessary structured data — a BreadcrumbList — in JSON-LD format for you. Just flip the switch in the settings and you’ll see the relevant lines appear in your source code — although, depending on your theme, you may need to add a small piece of code to your theme as well. Find out more on our breadcrumb structured data in our documentation. Optionally, you can use the Yoast SEO breadcrumb block to quickly add breadcrumbs on individual posts or pages.

You can find the Yoast breadcrumbs block in the WordPress block library

Different types of breadcrumbs

You may have noticed that there are different types of breadcrumbs. These are the three most common ones:

Hierarchy-based breadcrumbs

These are the most common and it’s how we use breadcrumbs on our site. They tell you where you are in a site structure and how many steps there are to get back to the homepage. Something like Home > Blog > Category > Post name.

Best Buy gives you a good idea where you are in the audio department

Attribute-based breadcrumbs

Attribute-based breadcrumbs are seen most commonly when a user has searched on an e-commerce site, and the breadcrumb trail is made up of product attributes – for example: Home > Product category > Gender > Size > Color.

Office Depot shows every selection in the breadcrumbs

History-based breadcrumbs

History-based breadcrumbs do exactly what it says on the tin; they are ordered according to what you have been doing on the site. Think of these as an alternative to your internet history bar, so you get something like this: Home > Previous page > Previous page > Previous page > Current page. It’s also possible to combine these like Macy’s does in the screenshot below.

breadcrumbs history
Some breadcrumbs follow you around

Advantages of using breadcrumbs

There are several advantages to using these helpful little pointers on your site. Let’s take a quick look at them:

1. Google loves them

Your visitors like breadcrumbs, but Google does too. They give Google another way of figuring out how your website is structured, but, as covered earlier, Google may also use them in the actual search results, which makes your result much more enticing to users. To increase the chances of your breadcrumbs appearing in Google, you need to add structured data like Yoast SEO does.

2. They enhance the user experience

People hate being lost. When confronted with a new location, people often look around in search of recognizable objects or landmarks – and the same is true of websites. You need to keep visitors happy and reduce friction as much as possible. Breadcrumbs can help your user experience since they are a common interface element that instantly shows people a way out. There’s no need to click the back button!

3. They lower bounce rates

Hardly anyone enters a site via the homepage — It’s all about organic search. That means any part of your site could be an entry point. You need to come up with a way to guide these visitors to other parts of your site if the selected page doesn’t meet their needs. Breadcrumbs can lower bounce rates because you’re offering visitors an alternative way to browse your site. Don’t you think it’s better to send a visitor to your homepage than back to Google?

How to add breadcrumbs

There are several ways of adding breadcrumbs to your site. Firstly, if you use WordPress, you can use one of the many plugins or – of course – Yoast SEO. If you use a different CMS the process will be different. It is also possible to add them to your code by hand. If you also want them to appear in Google results, you need to use structured data in a way that Google understands. You can find more information on this in Google’s developer documentation on breadcrumbs.

Yoast SEO has breadcrumb support built in

Yoast SEO offers an easy way to add breadcrumbs to your WordPress site. It will add everything necessary not just to add them to your site, but to get them ready for Google. Some themes come with support for Yoast SEO breadcrumbs baked in. In that case, you only have to turn on breadcrumbs and set them up in the way you like. In case your theme doesn’t support our breadcrumbs yet, you need to add the following piece of code to your theme where you want them to appear:

<?php
if ( function_exists('yoast_breadcrumb') ) {
  yoast_breadcrumb( '</p><p id="breadcrumbs">','</p><p>' );
}
?>

This code can often be placed inside the single.php or page.php files, just above the title of the page. Some themes want it at the end of the header.php file. It’s not a good idea to add it to functions.php since this could cause problems.

After adding the code, you can go to the advanced settings of Yoast SEO and switch on breadcrumb support. You can also control how their structure will look and what prefixes will be used. Find out more on our document on implementing breadcrumbs with Yoast SEO.

You can find the settings for breadcrumbs in SEO > Search Appearance > Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs with a WordPress block

If you are using the block editor, you can use the Yoast SEO breadcrumb block to simply add breadcrumbs to individual posts and pages. This is helpful if you don’t want to touch code or if you only want to add to a specific page. Adding breadcrumbs is incredibly easy — simply hit the big + icon to add a block. Then, find the Yoast SEO breadcrumbs block by entering the name in the search bar or by scrolling down to the Yoast section. Alternatively, you can simply type /yoast breadcrumbs in an empty paragraph.

A breadcrumb path added via the Yoast SEO breadcrumb block

Conclusion

Despite using breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel still got lost in the woods. Don’t let that happen to your visitors! Breadcrumbs provide an easy-to-grasp way for visitors to navigate your site and they instantly understand how your site structure works. Google loves them for the same reason. So use Yoast SEO to easily add them to your site.

Read more: Site structure: the ultimate guide »

The post What are breadcrumbs? Why are they important for SEO? appeared first on Yoast.

Maggi Pier

Maggi Pier

Avid gardener, artist, writer, web designer, video creator, and Google my Business local marketing pro!
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