On the Importance of Breadcrumbs

Posted on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 0:07 AM

Google has just announced a new change to some search results that they hope will soon make it into many other results. Today, for each search result they show a green web address, or URL, at the bottom to let you know where you're headed. This can be good if the URL makes it clear what you can expect to find on that page and where it fits within the hierarchy of the site. But it can be downright useless if it's not clear.

When we design the way results appear on google.com, our goal is to get you to the information you're looking for as quickly as possible.

Google's BreadcrumbsFor example, if a site sold bananas the website might have a URL that looks like www.example.com/products/bananas.htm. If this URL appeared in green below a search on Google for the website it would be pretty clear to the person searching what is on that page and where it exists in the website. This page is about "bananas," under "products," which is on the "example.com" site.

Often, however, URLs are too long, too short, or too obscure to add useful information. What if the URL instead looked more like www.example.com/jsmith.htm? A search result wouldn't necessarily make it clear that this page is a part of the "staff" sub-section under the "about us" section which is on the "example.com" site.

The new text that Google is now introducing will provide useful information about the page. It will be easier to see that the example.com site has information about their company, including a whole section listing the people that work there.

This new change will definitely add a lot more value to your search results but more importantly it exposes the method that Google is using to correctly display this hierarchy: they are looking at the site's breadcrumbs.

By analyzing site breadcrumbs, we've been able to improve the search snippet for a small percentage of search results, and we hope to expand in the future.

Breadcrumbs are the list of links at the top of a page which look something like "Home > About Us > Staff > John Smith". This list of links lets your visitors know where they are in your website and how the sections of your site relate to each other. Also, clicking on any one of the links in the breadcrumbs will take you directly to that section. So, they provide valuable information and make it easier for your visitors to get around.

For years we've known how important this information can be which is why every Tasty CMS website has a bread crumb trail at the top of every page. This trail is automatically created whenever you add, edit or move a page. So as Google begins to roll this change out to more search results our clients will be able to take full advantage of it without having to do anything.

As a final thought: do you know why they're called breadcrumbs? Here's a hint...

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