Breadcrumb Navigation Links as an On-Page Optimization Factor

What is breadcrumb navigation?

You probably know the answer to this question without realizing it. Breadcrumb navigation is a technique used to allow users to quickly recognize where they are within a website. Named after the breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel use find their way home, breadcrumb navigation normally appears on a page as a set of horizontal links, indicating the path to the page the user is on. Check out this picture, which is worth a thousand words:

Breadcrumb links as a ranking factor

The anchor text used in links continues to be a substantial ranking factor, despite recent algorithmic updates from Google which have reportedly diluted their importance. When breadcrumb navigation is enabled on a website, it creates anchor text links on every page of the website which link back to the home page of the site. This, ladies and gentleman, is how you can use breadcrumb links as a positive ranking factor for targeted keywords.

While internal links do not have the same impact on rankings for a given website as links coming to a website from another, there is still page authority that is passed between these internal links. And when there are links going back to the home page on every page of a website, anchored in keyword rich anchor text, a real impact on rankings is often observed.

Beyond the Hypothetical

Let’s have a look at a real life example of keyword rich, anchor text breadcrumb links which seemingly impact the ranking of that targeted keyword.

The father of SEO, Bruce Clay, uses breadcrumb navigation links on his site, His home page breadcrumb link is anchored in the text “Internet Marketing Optimization”:

According to Link Research Tools, only about .10% of Bruce’s incoming links are anchored in that text:

Let’s see where Bruce is ranking for [Internet Marketing Optimization]:

I don’t want anyone to take away from this information that if you go update your breadcrumb anchor text to your most prized keywords that you will magically rank on the first page of Google as a result.

However, it is worth looking into, as it does seem to have a positive effect on organic rankings for a given keyword, when considered in conjunction with other on and off-page ranking factors.

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2021 Update:

The location on the page where links are seem to have a big difference on how Google will treat links. For example, footer links may not carry as much weight as links within content that appear naturally. With that being said we are currently running updated tests like you can see in this example for a PI Law Firm.

Example Breadcrumb Link for a Richmond Personal Injury Law Firm

We will keep you updated on our findings with this new test.