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Breadcrumbs: Remove Anxiety From Your Customers’ Website Experience

September 10, 2015

Tony Grant
Tony is our conversion rate optimisation expert. Tony has an unnatural passion for UX, customer behaviour and data-driven insights.


Often, people say there’s no point to breadcrumbs and we don’t need them. I disagree, I think they improve user experience and reduce anxiety.

In this article I’ll be focussing on the following areas:

  • What are breadcrumbs?
  • Breadcrumbs In The Real World: TK Maxx Vs Topman
  • Top 4 reasons why we need Breadcrumbs
  • 6 things to remember when using breadcrumbs

What are Breadcrumbs?

Breadcrumbs are a form of secondary navigation. Their primary function is to help customers understand where they are on a website and be able to easily jump to a previous page in the hierarchy. Essentially, if a customer reaches a page they don’t want to be on, they can easily find their way back. Customers may use the ‘back’ tab in their browser, which is fine, however breadcrumbs simply provide an additional option.

Breadcrumbs in the real world: TK Maxx vs Topman

TK Maxx – User Experience

Recently I went shopping at TK Maxx in Manchester, I was in a rush and had 10 minutes to find a t-shirt before I was due to meet some friends for lunch.

Around 15 minutes had passed when I eventually found what I was looking for. I proceeded to the checkout and paid, however on trying to exit the shop I completely lost my bearings as there were no obvious exit signs.

It wasn’t immediately apparent at the time, but without those signs I felt a little anxious and frustrated; after all I was now in serious danger of not being on time to meet my friends.

I had to consciously think about where I needed to go to exit the shop rather than being guided out of the shop. Maybe this is a clever tactic to encourage customers to browse for longer, but to me it left a negative association with the brand.

Topman – User Experience

Compare this to my experience at Topman one week later. Again I was under similar time constraints.

I found the item I was searching for, paid and left the shop without even thinking about it. Everything was well signposted and the shop had a systematic flow, leaving a positive association with the brand.

In-site navigation, breadcrumbs plays the same role as the signposts in Topman and eradicates that feeling of ‘anxiety and frustration’.

Despite this, breadcrumbs are often omitted from sites. A common sticking point is that website designers aren’t sure if it’s worth the effort as they can take time to implement properly and it’s perceived that they only serve to clutter the page.

 Top 4 reasons why we need Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs help customers establish where they are located on a website, they also allow customers to read information quickly. Below are the four key reasons why breadcrumbs can benefit your website and more importantly, your customer.

  1. Reduces customer anxiety

Breadcrumbs can reduce customer doubt and anxiety about what they can expect, aiding a positive brand experience. When you achieve this, a customer will affiliate your brand with a friendly, usable and pleasant experience.

  1. Less customers leaving the website

If a customer reaches a product page that they’re not interested in, they will either leave or go back to the category page. Breadcrumbs encourage the customer to start again, rather than leaving your website altogether. Breadcrumbs can also be used internally such as, an intranet, which can significantly increase productivity and time-efficiency.

  1. Impacts SEO rankings

Taking an SEO point of view, breadcrumbs are considered best practice. Placing them high up on the page helps search engines crawling the site.

From a usability point of view, customers can navigate a breadcrumb instead of hitting the back button. Google is moving towards usability metrics which can aid a websites ranking in SERPs. Having been around for decades, breadcrumbs show no signs of going anywhere, Google are replacing the URL within its search results with the site name and breadcrumb navigation path.

  1. Can you think of a good reason not to use them?

I research usability topics on a daily basis, not once have I been convinced of not using them and here’s my rationale.

  • Breadcrumbs never cause any problems when conducting user testing.
  • They don’t take up much real estate on a page.
  • Breadcrumbs by and large have not change over many years, so customers are not distracted by them. In fact, it could be recognition that a website is systematic and well set up.

6 things to remember when using breadcrumbs

Commonly, breadcrumbs appear in a horizontal line showing the trail from the highest level page (home) to the current page the customer is on. Below are my recommendations for best practice with the help from some industry leaders:

  1. Show the full customer journey to provide context to their location
  2. Remember to use your home page to anchor a breadcrumb
  3. Breadcrumbs are best located below the navigation and above the page title
  4. Clearly show where the customer currently is on the website
  5. Do not use Breadcrumbs on the homepage as that’s always considers that starting point
  6. Ensure your breadcrumbs follow SEO best practice guidelines

What’s your opinion?

Breadcrumbs have never found the spotlight due to their permanent status of ‘secondary to the navigation bar’. However, they can be a powerful element to improve user experience. Breadcrumbs aid customer acquisition (SEO) and customer usability (CRO).

Should you have Breadcrumbs on your website? For the majority of websites, yes. They do no harm and I believe if you can ease the customer journey a little you should do it. If you walk into a shop and an assistant smiles, that is a lot nicer than frowning. Ultimately, this won’t affect your purchase decision, but contributes to a pleasant experience.

I’d love to hear your opinion, find me on Twitter or LinkedIn

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