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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 »