Breadcrumb Navigation Explained: Types, Benefits, Guidelines

MotoCMS Editorial 6 November, 2014 1,271

The concept of using Breadcrumb navigation in website design is strange for many designers. A considerable number of them still don’t believe that breadcrumb navigation is an integral part of the design. They treat it as an appendage with the only purpose to fill up the vacuum in the design someway. But if used properly, breadcrumb navigation can enhance the users experience and the accessibility level of the website in more than one way.

Breadcrumb Navigation Image

Breadcrumb navigation works as a visual guide that informs the audience about their exact location on the website so that they don’t feel lost while browsing it. It boosts their confidence and also gives them an alternative way to browse the site.

Breadcrumb navigation is widely used for content heavy sites or for the websites with the hierarchical content structure. In eCommerce based websites, breadcrumb navigation can be used to make it easier for people to locate products effectively. Most people don’t have the exact name of the product that they are looking for; rather what they do is they use breadcrumb navigation to find products that meet their exact requirements.

However, breadcrumb navigation does not need to have the same boring structure all the time. It can be of the following three types:

Location Based Breadcrumb

Location based breadcrumb navigation is quite popular among web designers as it directly impacts the browsing experience of the visitors. This makes it abundantly clear to the visitors where they are on the website or where the page stands in the hierarchy of the website. Location based breadcrumb navigation is  used in sites that have more than 2 level of content. The purpose of this breadcrumb type is to assist in navigation.

Path Based Breadcrumb

This is another common breadcrumb navigation type which indicates the steps that a user has to take to reach the current page. This type of breadcrumb navigation is usually seen on those sites where the visitors need to fill out a form that spans across two or more pages. In this breadcrumb navigation type, visitors will get to see the links of the pages that they have visited earlier and this assures them that they are going in the right direction. However, it is a fact that path based breadcrumb is not that much popular as it does the job of a Forward and Back button.

Attribute Based Breadcrumb Navigation

Attribute based breadcrumb does not follow a single path all the time. It is used just to describe the attribute of a particular page. This type of breadcrumb navigation is widely used for eCommerce websites where a single product page is accessible via different paths [also known as faceted navigation]. Say for example, the landing page of adventure books on an eCommerce website can be accessible via three or four ways and therefore you simply can’t put your trust on static breadcrumb navigation rather you need to opt for attribution based Breadcrumb navigation.

Attribute Based Breadcrumb Type

The Benefits of Breadcrumb Navigation

#1 Facilitates Navigation

Breadcrumb navigation allows users to navigate a website easily. Some even treat it as a second tier navigation system. By clicking on it, visitors can move from one page to another without requiring them to use ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ buttons again and again.

#2 Better Users Experience

Breadcrumb navigation adds to the overall user’s experience in a positive way. You would not have to spend hours to fine-tune the main navigation or would not have to do something radical with the main navigation of the website to make all the pages easily accessible to the visitors as you have got breadcrumb navigation that will take care of this issue.

Breadrumb Navigation Benefits

#3 Increases Average Time Spent on Site

Since breadcrumb contains links to other pages within the same hierarchy, it is likely that visitors might find them interesting to check out. This will dramatically increase the amount of time users spent on the website. As some experts believe, Google and other search engines are using the data like bounce rate, average time spent on page etc to determine the quality of a website and that means, breadcrumb can help you achieve better visibility online in one way or the other.

#4 Reduction in Useless Page Views

The more page views, the better, right? Well you could not be more wrong. We need to be more concerned with the idea of average time spent on a page rather than useless page views. Now, if we don’t have breadcrumb navigation in place, people would have to jump from one section to another without requiring them to browse some pages in between. This will reduce the number of useless page views that sometimes mess with the analytics data.

#5 Low Bounce Rate

People get irritated when they can’t find the product they have been looking for. If the navigation of the website fails to help people find the information, this might result in visitors’ bouncing back from the website. One of the effective ways to deal with the problem of low bounce rate is by incorporating the idea of breadcrumb navigation.

#6 It Reflects the Hierarchy of the Website

Sometimes it is impossible for people to identify the location of the page in the hierarchy of the website. The primary navigation of most websites does not give any hint about the location of a page and that is the reason why we should be using breadcrumb navigation.

#7 Visually Interesting

Breadcrumb navigation not only makes it easier for people to browse the website easily and effortlessly, it also contributes hugely on the aesthetic front. It does not take much space of the design and if you can use it judiciously, it can make the interface look more elegant and graceful.

Breadcrumb Navigation Advantages

The Disadvantages of Using Breadcrumb

Well, every good thing has a dark side and breadcrumb navigation is no different. It has its own share of disadvantages as well.

#1 Confusing
Some websites do not need another layer of navigation at all. Yes there are some websites whose navigation is so good that it does not need breadcrumb navigation. For example, a simple blog does not need breadcrumb because most of its articles are accessible either via the main navigation or by its search box.

#2 Clumsy
Breadcrumb navigation often looks clumsy when you access a site on smaller devices like Tablets, Smartphone etc. It adds to visual clutter and clumsiness especially on touch phone devices.

#3 Needs Regular Updates
Web Application based website might run into trouble if they embrace breadcrumb navigation. Since these types of websites always make changes in its hierarchical structure, breadcrumb might lead to broken links or inconsistency in the navigation.

Factors We Need to Consider Before Using Breadcrumb Navigation

#1 How big is too big
The purpose of breadcrumb navigation is to facilitate navigation and therefore, it should not dominate the design. So, you should not make it look too big as it might overshadow other design elements of the page. Don’t make it too prominent at the same time. Some websites even use gray color to make the breadcrumb look less prominent so that it does not interfere with other elements of the interface.

#2 Consistency
The design and the structure of the breadcrumb navigation should be consistent site wide and ideally, breadcrumb should be consistent with the existing design and theme of the website as well. Inconsistent use of breadcrumb will only confuse the visitors.

Breadcrumb Navigation Usage

#3 Don’t Make It Look Fancy
You should not use fancy fonts, bright color or weird separator because these will beat the very purpose of using breadcrumb navigation. Don’t make it the focal point of the design; just make sure it is easily to locate and that’s it. No need to go overboard with the design.

#4 Use Separator
There should be enough gap between different breadcrumb levels otherwise people might find it tough to navigate via it. Most designers use separators like Arrow, Forward Slashes, Greater Than character etc and they are doing a great job by helping people identifying different breadcrumb levels without squinting hard.

How to Use Breadcrumb Navigation

#5 Don’t Include the Current Page in Navigation
Since people are already on the page, it does not make any sense to add link of the current page to the breadcrumb navigation. This will do more harm than good, because it confuses the readers.

So, these are some factors that you need to consider while trying to design breadcrumb navigation for your website.

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Author: MotoCMS Editorial
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