What are breadcrumbs and 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 breadcrumbs work.

What are breadcrumbs?

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 breadcrumbs we see on websites these days. A breadcrumb is a small text path, often located at the top of a page. 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.

Breadcrumbs 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 in your site. Yoast SEO automatically adds the necessary structured data 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.breadcrumb seo google example

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. Breadcrumbs like this 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.

breadcrumbs hierarchy

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.

breadcrumbs attribute

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

Advantages of using breadcrumbs

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

1. Google loves them

Your visitors like breadcrumbs, but Google does too. Breadcrumbs give Google another way of figuring out how your website is structured, but, as covered earlier, Google may also use your breadcrumbs 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 or use Yoast SEO.

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 anymore, these days 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 breadcrumb 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 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. To add breadcrumbs to your site, 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 the breadcrumb structure will look and what prefixes will be used. Find out more on our Knowledge Base page on implementing breadcrumbs with Yoast SEO.

search appearance breadcrumbs yoast seo

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 breadcrumbs to your site.

Read more: Site structure: the ultimate guide »


18 Responses to What are breadcrumbs and why are they important for SEO?

  1. Rohit
    Rohit  • 4 months ago

    Breadcrumbs are really important and i surely get it after reading this post.

  2. HostIcron
    HostIcron  • 4 months ago

    Good post read it .And will implement it on my website.

  3. Richard Warren
    Richard Warren  • 4 months ago

    Hello,
    This is a wonderful article with lots of unique tips.
    I always come to your site and try to read all of your posts.Keep it up.

    Thanks

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 4 months ago

      Thanks Richard! Happy we can be of help :)

  4. Goliath Media Solutions
    Goliath Media Solutions  • 4 months ago

    Great post Edwin. I have also found that breadcrumbs increase UX which plays a huge part in how you rank these days. Yoast makes it super easy to add this feature and I would highly reccomend

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 4 months ago

      Great to hear! And indeed, UX and SEO surely go hand in hand!

  5. Rahul Mukherjee
    Rahul Mukherjee  • 4 months ago

    Hi, it’s a good article, but I have a question. On my blog https://rahulmukherjee.com, I use Yoast and Schema plugin both, as yoast can’t provide everything, yet it claims to be the the number 1. However what is the difference between breadcrumbList and normal breadcrumbs? Also, for the development thing why yoast is not focusing on the bugs which are already too much to solve as there is nothing you say a enhancements in your releases. Also what good releasing any plugin with 100 bug and 1 enhancement (if there is enhancement at all)? making cosmetic changes are never a part of any development, that even a child knows and you are releasing synonyms on top of that to maximize the pain of people! Strange!

  6. Michiel
    Michiel  • 4 months ago

    Breadcrumbs are a great addition to your site and it can definitely add to user experience. If only Hansel and Gretel had had Yoast SEO breadcrumbs, they wouldn’t have gotten lost in the woods.

    • Rahul Mukherjee
      Rahul Mukherjee  • 4 months ago

      That was a real punch! :P

  7. Matt
    Matt  • 4 months ago

    Hi, do we need to add that piece of code?
    I have breadcrumbs enabled without adding it… it is showing on the post, but will it also show on Google results?
    Thanks

  8. Drive digital
    Drive digital  • 4 months ago

    thanks for the valuable information I am using your plugin on all my website it’s really helpful :)

  9. Kingsley Felix
    Kingsley Felix  • 4 months ago

    Thanks for this, i use yoast breadcrumb on my site, the best part is my theme has structured data as well so they both work well

  10. vimal
    vimal  • 4 months ago

    Hi. Do I need to add the code above because I am getting errors when adding this. Its saying syntax error, unexpected ‘>’

    Thanks

    • Edwin Toonen

      Sorry ’bout that! The code is now fixed.

  11. ape
    ape  • 4 months ago

    Code posted doesn’t work :(

    Try this instead:
    <?php
    if ( function_exists('yoast_breadcrumb') ) {
    yoast_breadcrumb('’,”);
    }
    ?>

  12. Karel
    Karel  • 4 months ago

    Thank you so much: had no clue, now I know what to do!

    • Edwin Toonen

      Great to hear, Karel!

      • David
        David  • 4 months ago

        I just create a new website and install Yoast SEO, Best Plugin Guys, Thank you


Check out our must read articles about Blog SEO