July 22, 2004

Hansel and Gretel were walking through the woods and dropping breadcrumbs along the way to aid in helping find their way back home. While this is a children’s story with multiple meanings, it does, in fact, hold a message for web designers. Deep sites should have some form of back navigation.

Breadcrumbs allow visitors to understand how the page they are on is associated with the previous pages in an hierarchal structure. Breadcrumbs are typically seen near the top of the main content area and allow several elements of functionality. Backward navigation is one of the most obvious features of breadcrumbs. They improve website usability and search engine friendliness.

Website usability is an important element that should exist in all web sites. Unfortunately, not all designers understand this element. When the designer fails to understand this element the site begins to fall short in its levels of performance. Imagine you’ve visited a page through a search engine or some other link, the page doesn’t include breadcrumbs and you wish to visit other pages with a similar nature. Once you click off the page to another page the only way back is to use the back button.

However, if breadcrumbs are used, the navigation becomes much easier and you now have the ability to see similar pages or products by going to the parent page or category. Just as you’re able to do this, the search engines are as well. This helps the search engines index pages much better. Additionally, the link text used in the breadcrumb navigation aids in improving the search engine positioning of the linked page.

Sites without this feature are one of the least user-friendly of sites one could visit. A site with bad navigation is one where visitors will leave without purchasing or becoming a qualified lead. I had a site owner come to me over a year ago with a site that had multiple pages. Unfortunately, only the home page had links to the other pages and when clicking into a secondary page the visitor had to back to the home page to reach the other pages.

Navigation is extremely important. Every major page should be reachable through the main site navigation. Minor pages should be accessible through links within the major pages and reverse linked back to the parent page. Through these simple rules your site will perform much better for your visitors and the search engines.

Lee Roberts President/CEO of Rose Rock Design, Inc. and owner/developer of the Apple
Pie Shopping Cart
the search engine friendly shopping cart.