Great UX should be almost invisible. An effective ecommerce website is so seamlessly navigable, and the journey from homepage to hitting ‘buy’ so straightforward, that the customer doesn’t notice the features designed to make it that way. Using website design to boost conversions isn’t just about all-singing, all-dancing innovations like Amazon’s one-click ordering – the most basic elements of page layout can make all the difference.
There’s an unspoken understanding between users and websites that certain things will always work the same way. For example, clicking the brand logo in the top left corner will always take you back to the homepage. Your customers have likely never given this a second thought, but they’d notice if it wasn’t there, and the same is true of breadcrumbs. They’re an aspect of UX that’s rarely written about, but one which plays an important role in maintaining your website’s reputation with customers and with Google.
What are breadcrumbs?
Located at the top of a page, a breadcrumb trail is a small cluster of text that indicates where you are on the website and how to get there. It not only gives an indication of the hierarchy of pages on the website, but also offers a straightforward route back to a number of other directly relevant pages.
Breadcrumb trails are also visible in Google search results, giving a quick indicator of exactly where on the site a page is located.
Many kinds of websites feature a trail of breadcrumbs in one form or another, but for ecommerce sites they serve as a particularly useful navigational tool for customers. In online shopping, anything that replicates the experience of shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store makes the process more convenient and streamlined – and breadcrumbs allow customers to quickly change their minds and continue browsing in the same department.
What different types of breadcrumbs are there?
There are two main types of breadcrumb trail that you’ll usually come across. They both serve broadly the same purpose and are advantageous both for customers and for SEO.
As illustrated above, hierarchy-based breadcrumbs offer a pathway back to the homepage and everything in between. They simply reflect the website’s structure rather than being affected by data that you enter or which pages you have previously visited.
Similar to hierarchy-based breadcrumbs, attribute-based breadcrumbs show where on a website you are and how you got there – but take into account specific data that you’ve entered in order to filter results, such as product categories.
These are a less common alternative to hierarchy-based breadcrumbs, and while similar in appearance the main difference is that they reflect the unique path a user has taken to get to a page, rather than the site’s conventional hierarchy. History-based breadcrumbs are seen as less useful because users often take roundabout, non-linear routes to reach pages, and in these cases breadcrumbs become merely a second back button.
Why does my ecommerce website need breadcrumbs?
The use of breadcrumbs as a basic functionality in the design of any ecommerce website is advantageous both for customers and for the business. There are a number of reasons for this:
They give users a positive experience
If someone gets lost on your website then you can guarantee that they won’t be back. Breadcrumbs offer a clear navigational pathway not only back to the homepage but from one part of the site to another – keeping friction to a minimum in the sales process and maintaining your website’s reputation as convenient and easy to use.
They save space on mobile sites
On the mobile-friendly version of your site (which these days should be your priority) space is at a premium. Conventional top-of-page navigations can take up huge portions of the screen, especially where dropdowns are used, and a breadcrumb trail is a small and effective way to offer the same functionality without encroaching on the page.
They help your site rank on Google
Not only does the appearance of breadcrumbs on an SERP give extra information to the user and make your listing more appealing – giving this information to Google helps it to understand how your website is structured and list pages accordingly.
They reduce bounce rates
Homepages are no longer the main entry point to your website. The rise of organic search means that customers may access your site via any page. It’s highly useful to be able to direct them around your site from wherever they are rather than sending them back to Google every time they’ve finished with a page.