What Are Breadcrumbs in Web Design?

What are breadcrumbs?

A “breadcrumb” (or “breadcrumb trail”) is a type of secondary navigation scheme that reveals the user’s location in a website or web application. When a website has a lot of pages, breadcrumb navigation can increase usability and findability of website sections and pages.

Origins

The term “breadcrumb” comes from the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale in which two children drop breadcrumbs in order to create a trail back home. Just like in the tale, breadcrumbs in real-world applications offer users a way to trace the path back to their original landing point on a website.

What do breadcrumbs look like?

The commonly accepted and most recognizable symbol for separating hyperlinks in breadcrumb trails is the “greater than” symbol (>). Typically, the > sign is used to denote hierarchy, but other visual separators can be used, such as (|), (>>) or (/). The choice depends on the aesthetics of the website and the type of breadcrumb used.
Below is an example of how the e-commerce site, Newegg, uses breadcrumbs to enable ease of “backtrack” navigation.

When should you use breadcrumbs?

Breadcrumb navigation is standard for large websites and websites that have hierarchically arranged pages, such as e-commerce websites. What we like to do is look at the site map and analyze whether breadcrumbs would improve the user’s ability to navigate between categories or not.
It’s important to note that breadcrumb navigation should be regarded as an extra, convenient feature and shouldn’t replace effective primary navigation menus. Think of it as a secondary navigation scheme that allows users to establish where they are on your website.

Benefits of using a breadcrumb trail

Some benefits of using a breadcrumb trail include:

  • Convenience for users
    • Instead of using the browser’s “Back” button or the website’s primary navigation to return to a higher-level page, users can now use the breadcrumbs with a fewer number of clicks.
  • Reduced bounce rates
    • Breadcrumb trails can be a great way to entice first-time visitors to peruse a website after having viewed the landing page. This, in turn, reduces the overall website bounce rate.

If you’re contemplating using a breadcrumb trail on your website, think about whether or not it will add value or convenience to the user. If used correctly, breadcrumbs can greatly enhance the way users find their way around.

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