Structure breadcrumbs for SEO
1. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your site and get a list of URLs.
Add your website URL in the search box and under the tab Internal, click on the filter symbol and select only the HTML option, to crawl only your content pages. Start crawling and export the report as CSV. Alternatively, export your All Pages report from Google Analytics. You can find it under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
2. Create a spreadsheet with the following columns: ID, URL, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Level 5, Page title & Import your CSV file from Step 1 into a new sheet in the spreadsheet.
The columns from Level 1 to Level 5 will contain the categories and subcategories of your website. For example, if your main navigation includes the categories Furniture and Accessories, these will both be added in the Level 1 column. If the Furniture category includes a subcategory called Closets, this will be added under Level 2, and so on.
3. Populate the URL and Page title columns of your spreadsheet with data from the Screaming Frog scan.
You can either copy-paste the two columns, or you can copy only the list of URLs, then use the vlookup function to auto populate the titles based on URLs. Analyze the structure of your URLs to make sure that you don’t have more than 5 levels of categories. If you do, add the missing levels to your table, as new columns, right after the Level 5 column.
4. Split your URLs into categories by using the Data > Split text to column function. Select “/” as the separator.
This will populate your Level 1 to Level 5 columns with the corresponding parts of the URLs such as breadcrumbs and categories. For example, the URL shopname.com/furniture/closets/night-closets will be split into the following columns: Level 1 = shopname.com, Level 2 = furniture, Level 3 = closets, Level 4 = night-closets.
5. Analyze the categories in Level 1 - Level 5 for consistency and user and search engine friendliness. These are the breadcrumbs that users see when navigating your website.
For example, make sure that all your categories and subcategories use the same structure, are all nouns, don’t use abbreviations, and are common words instead of jargon. If a category in your website architecture doesn’t have a separate page dedicated to it, do not include the category in the breadcrumb trail. For example, if your Furniture page isn’t populated to display all subcategories, don’t include this category in your breadcrumb trail. Instead, link directly to the subcategory. The category can still be displayed in faceted navigation, for structure, but shouldn’t be clickable. If you have multiple categories with the same subcategory, use consistent category names. For example, the category Kitchen and Bedroom on a furniture website can both include a subcategory called Accessories.
6. Map out your breadcrumbs and highlight the trails that include too few pages or don’t make sense from a UX point of view.
For example, the breadcrumb trail for a product page should be Homepage > Category Page > Subcategory page [Optional] > Product Page. If you have product pages that are linked directly to the root of your website, such as website.com/product-page, highlight the page for further action. Filter only the highlighted pages and decide how to restructure your breadcrumbs, then write down the action to take in a new column called Next steps. For example, if your blog articles aren’t located in a separate /blog/ folder, you might want to include this category in your breadcrumb trails for all blog pages.
7. Highlight the breadcrumb names that are too long and could lead to issues on mobile displays, then filter those pages for further action.
Keep each link in the breadcrumb trail down to three-four words or less to ensure it fits in the width of the page.
8. Implement your breadcrumb trails to display the current location in the site’s hierarchical structure, not the session history.
For example, if the user navigated through three different categories before reaching a product page, they should see only the trail for the product page: Homepage > Category page > Product page, not their entire browsing history that took them to that product page. In the breadcrumb trail, the breadcrumb corresponding to the current page should not be a link.
9. Separate each link with an arrow (→) or the chevron symbol (>) to make it clear where the breaks are between links. You can choose a style that fits your brand.
Do not use dashes (—), slashes (/), or vertical lines (|) which can confuse visitors.