by Path Digital on June 24, 2018
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So just how important are breadcrumbs to search optimization, anyway? Whether or not you actually think about them at all as a user, you probably know this much:
• Navigation: They can be an important navigational aid, depending on the site type (I’ll sometimes use them when shopping on large sites like Amazon). Although I might use the site’s search function more, being able to click back to a “parent” category page from a product page is useful on sites with an otherwise cumbersome navigation structure.
• Categorization: They can tell me as a user what product category I’m in – kinda like a supermarket aisle sign. Even if I already know which way the cereal is, it makes for a better shopping experience to get that quick visual confirmation that I’m in the right place.
There are also other not-as-standard uses for crumbs, as Yoast points out, for things like site browsing history (dynamic breadcrumbs) or product search selection.
In general, the way I think about it as a user is that they’re supplemental to my experience, and not a must-have – but for an e-commerce site I’d certainly expect this design standard to be there. What’s not as well understood are breadcrumbs’ impact on your site’s visibility and presence in search (even for non-ecommerce sites).
I’ll give the high level for SEO here, and then offer some WordPress and Shopify tips for displaying breadcrumbs optimally on your own site.
From a structural perspective, Google and other search engines like categories. A site with a navigation that’s not too deep, with enough categories to bucket out products (or individual posts, etc) accordingly, makes it easier to crawl.
Following the top navigation and URL structure, the breadcrumb is another signal to Google bot about how your site is structured — in the era of the semantic web, breadcrumbs provide meaning about how a product relates to its parent category or subcategory.
As Search Engine People says, “Every product page on your site could and should link directly back to relevant category pages. That helps to distribute link equity around the site and can help your category pages rank for more generic keywords.”
With that in mind, breadcrumbs are a good tool for internal linking — and for SEO in general, I’d add they’re also better quality internal links, since breadcrumb URLs and anchor text are more unique per page than global navigation elements like your top and footer navs.
In general you shouldn’t over-optimize breadcrumb link text; simply having too much going on in the breadcrumb path isn’t helpful to users at the very least and can be viewed by Google as spammy.
But you can certainly have keywords here if they’re useful for categorization (if they accurately reflect your product or other categories). The SEO “rule of thumb” may be just to keep things simple and prioritize navigation experience.
For enhancing your pages’s appearance in search, I think breadcrumbs can aid click-through rates depending on what they tell me semantically what’s on the page.
For example, this breadcrumb markup from an Amazon.com page provides some added context — where it’s not clear at a glance from the title whether I’d be purchasing an Android game app or a hoverboard. As a user I like seeing the navigation path at a glance; it can help provide a more informed decision to click.
While schema markup isn’t a direct SEO ranking signal, improving clickthroughs is one way it can help your performance in search overall. There are various WordPress plugins as well as Shopify apps to choose from for all your breadcrumb needs. Here are a few I recommend.
The Schema plugin is a popular install, and I use it currently on my own site. While it doesn’t have out-of-the-box functionality for local SEO markup, it covers all the other markup types I’d want to have for a smaller site that’s not e-commerce, including breadcrumbs.
What’s good to know for WordPress is that you can add breadcrumb markup very easily (read: with a simple, lightweight plugin install) EVEN IF your WP theme doesn’t support breadcrumbs onpage.
If all you want is some added markup for SERP appearance, I’d recommend this one too, JSON-LD Breadcrumbs.
Truth in advertising: Uncomplicated Breadrcumbs is, as it says, uncomplicated to install and set up in the Shopify backend for onpage crumbs. I recommend it as a replacement for Shopify’s out-of-the-box breadcrumb functionality, since it adds categorization to your /product/ pages (I actually found that with a slight .liquid modification it works great for /collections/ as well).
So for SEO reasons above, if you can handle a little Shopify configuration – the video makes it pretty easy – I’d say go with this one. As far as schema display: there’s not much you can do to modify the JSON-LD markup, but in my experience the crumbs do display for Product pages.
Let me know if you have any app, plugin or other recommendations!
With his Chicago-based SEO consultancy Path Digital Services & Consulting, started in March 2018, Nate Holman offers custom, results driven SEO and digital consulting services, specializing in WordPress, Shopify and other e-commerce platforms for small to midsize businesses and agencies.