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Breadcrumbs In Web Design: Examples And Best Practices


On websites that have a lot of pages, breadcrumb navigation can greatly enhance the way users find their way around. In terms of usability, breadcrumbs reduce the number of actions a website visitor needs to take in order to get to a higher-level page, and they improve the findability1 of website sections and pages. They are also an effective visual aid that indicates the location of the user within the website’s hierarchy, making it a great source of contextual information for landing pages.

What is a breadcrumb? Link

A “breadcrumb” (or “breadcrumb trail”) is a type of secondary navigation scheme that reveals the user’s location in a website or Web application. The term comes from the Hansel and Gretel2 fairy tale in which the two title children drop breadcrumbs to form a trail back to their home. Just like in the tale, breadcrumbs in real-world applications offer users a way to trace the path back to their original landing point.

interactive example 1.763
Breadcrumbs on Delicious.com4

You can usually find breadcrumbs in websites that have a large amount of content organized in a hierarchical manner. You also see them in Web applications that have more than one step, where they function similar to a progress bar. In their simplest form, breadcrumbs are horizontally arranged text links separated by the “greater than” symbol (>); the symbol indicates the level of that page relative to the page links beside it.

In this article, we’ll explore the use of breadcrumbs on websites and discuss some best practices for applying breadcrumb trails to your own website.

When Should You Use Breadcrumbs? Link

Use breadcrumb navigation for large websites and websites that have hierarchically arranged pages. An excellent scenario is e-commerce websites, in which a large variety of products is grouped into logical categories.

You shouldn’t use breadcrumbs for single-level websites that have no logical hierarchy or grouping. A great way to determine if a website would benefit from breadcrumb navigation is to construct a site map5 or a diagram representing the website’s navigation architecture, and then analyze whether breadcrumbs would improve the user’s ability to navigate within and between categories.

Breadcrumb navigation should be regarded as an extra feature and shouldn’t replace effective primary navigation menus. It’s a convenience feature; a secondary navigation scheme that allows users to establish where they are; and an alternative way to navigate around your website.

Types of Breadcrumbs Link

There are three main types of breadcrumbs6.

Location-based breadcrumbs show the user where they are in the website’s hierarchy. They are typically used for navigation schemes that have multiple levels (usually more than two levels). In the example below (from SitePoint7), each text link is for a page that is one level higher than the one on its right.

Example of location-based breadcrumb.

Attribute-based breadcrumb trails display the attributes of a particular page. For example, in Newegg8, breadcrumb trails show the attributes of the items displayed on a particular page:

Example of attribute-based breadcrumbs.

This page displays all computer cases that have the attributes of being manufactured by Lian Li and having a MicroATX Mini Tower form factor.

Path-based breadcrumb trails show users the steps they’ve taken to arrive at a particular page. Path-based breadcrumbs are dynamic in that they display the pages the user has visited before arriving on the current page.

Benefits of Using Breadcrumbs Link

Here are just some of the benefits of using a breadcrumb trail.

Convenient for users
Breadcrumbs are used primarily to give users a secondary means of navigating a website. By offering a breadcrumb trail for all pages on a large multi-level website, users can navigate to higher-level categories more easily.

Reduces clicks or actions to return to higher-level pages
Instead of using the browser’s “Back” button or the website’s primary navigation to return to a higher-level page, users can now use the breadcrumbs with a fewer number of clicks.

Doesn’t usually hog screen space
Because they’re typically horizontally oriented and plainly styled, breadcrumb trails don’t take up a lot of space on the page. The benefit is that they have little to no negative impact in terms of content overload, and they outweigh any negatives if used properly.

Reduces bounce rates
Breadcrumb trails can be a great way to entice first-time visitors to peruse a website after having viewed the landing page. For example, say a user arrives on a page through a Google search, seeing a breadcrumb trail may tempt that user to click to higher-level pages to view related topics of interests. This, in turn, reduces the overall website bounce rate9.

Mistakes in Breadcrumb Trail Implementation Link

Using breadcrumb trails is a fairly straightforward affair, and there are only a few guidelines to consider before deciding to implement them on a website. Let’s take a look at some common mistakes to avoid.

Using breadcrumbs when you don’t need to
A common mistake in implementing breadcrumbs is using them when there is no benefit.

Using breadcrumbs when you do not need it.

In the above example, Slicethepie10 risks overwhelming users with too many navigation options. The (1) primary navigation, (2) breadcrumb trail and (3) secondary navigation are very close together. The breadcrumb trail in this application offers users no added convenience because the secondary navigation for lower-level pages sits right below it. Additionally, clicking on the second-level link in the breadcrumb trail (“Music”) takes you back to the first tab (“Listen”), which mistakenly suggests that the first tab is on a higher level than the other two (“Search” and “Artist hall of fame”).

Using breadcrumb trails as primary navigation
As stated earlier, use breadcrumbs as an optional aid to navigation.

Using breadcrumbs as primary navigation./

In the above example, mefeedia11 does not offer a primary navigation menu for viewing videos. Though there is text link navigation in the footer section, there’s no navigation menu in the body of the pages, making it hard to navigate to other sections of the website.

Using breadcrumbs trails as primary navigation - example 2.

If you arrive on a video page directly — say, for example, through a Google search result — the only navigation option you may have is the breadcrumb trail. Or if you’ve already been browsing a website’s pages and reach a page that does not display the primary navigation menu, you will have to hit the “Back” button in your browser to access the main menu.

Using breadcrumbs when pages have multiple categories
Breadcrumb trails have a linear structure, so using them will be difficult if your pages can’t be classified into neat categories. Deciding whether to use breadcrumbs largely depends on how you’ve designed your website hierarchy. When a lower-level page is (or can be put) in more than one parent category, breadcrumb trails are ineffective, inaccurate and confusing to the user.

When designing a breadcrumb navigation scheme, keep several things in mind. Let’s take a look at some questions that might arise when you’re working with breadcrumbs.

What should be used to separate link items?
The commonly accepted and most recognizable symbol for separating hyperlinks in breadcrumb trails is the “greater than” symbol (>). Typically, the > sign is used to denote hierarchy, as in the format of Parent category > Child category.

Example of greater than symbols separating the text links.12

Other symbols used are arrows pointing to the right, right angle quotation marks (») and slashes (/).

Example of alternative hierarchy separators.13

The choice depends on the aesthetics of the website and the type of breadcrumb used. For example, for path-based breadcrumbs in which the links do not necessarily have a hierarchical relationship to each other, using a “greater than” symbol may not convey their relationship accurately.

How big should it be?
You don’t want your breadcrumbs to dominate the page. A breadcrumb trail functions merely as an aid to users (a convenience); its size should convey this to users and thus should at least be smaller, or less prominent, than the primary navigation menu.

An example of a good-sized breadcrumb trail.

A good rule of thumb to follow when sizing your breadcrumb trail is that it shouldn’t be the first item that grabs the user’s attention when arriving on a page.

Where should breadcrumbs be located?
Breadcrumb trails are usually displayed in the top half of the page, below the primary navigation menu if a horizontal menu layout is used.

Now that we’ve discussed the who, what, when, where, why and hows of breadcrumb trails, we should take a look at some live examples. In the following section, you’ll find a few examples of great websites that use breadcrumb trails.

1. Classic Text-Based Breadcrumbs Link

TypePad Design Assistant14

classic breadcrumb - example 1.15


Classic text-based breadcrumbs17

Nestle18 uses a breadcrumb trail whose text is significantly smaller than the text on the rest of the page, effectively making it unobtrusive.

Nestle example.19

Marchand de Trucs20

classic breadcrumb - example 2.21

Bridge 5522

classic breadcrumb - example 3.23

Overstock.com24 uses the standard “greater than” symbol for its attribute-based breadcrumb trail. Checkboxes for product attributes are used so that users can uncheck them to filter them out.

classic breadcrumb - example 4.25

2. Replacing “>” with Other Symbols Link

TechRadar UK26 and BP27 use right-pointing triangles.

Using other symbols for hierachy separators - example 2.28

Replacing the greater than symbol example.29

PSDTUTS30 and Martique31 use slashes.

Using other symbols for hierachy separators - example 3.32

Using other symbols for hierachy separators - example 4.33

Mouse to Minx34 uses a right-angled quotation mark to denote page hierarchy.

Using other symbols for hierachy separators - example 5.35

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox36 uses right-pointing arrows.

Using other symbols for hierachy separators - example 1.37

Target38 uses semi-colons (:) for separators.

semicolon separator example.39

One current trend in breadcrumb design basically says, “Breadcrumbs don’t have to be simple”. In these designs, you’ll see beautifully styled breadcrumbs that integrate well with the overall design.


styled breadcrumbs - example 1.41

Yahoo! TV42

Beautiful breadcrumb trails.43


styled breadcrumbs - example 2.45

Apple Store46

styled breadcrumbs - example 3.47


styled breadcrumbs - example 4.49


styled breadcrumbs - example 5.51




Beautifully-styled breadcrumbs - example.55

Beautiful navigation - examples.57

4. Breadcrumbs for Multi-Step Processes Link

Statement Tracker58 uses a breadcrumb trail to indicate the steps involved in registering for an account, as well as a progress indicator.

Sequential process example.59

Flickr60 uses a breadcrumb trail to indicate the number of sections in the Flickr tour.


5. Breadcrumbs with Sub-Navigation Link

Here are some examples of breadcrumb trails whose links, when clicked on or hovered over, open a sub-navigation panel that lists additional attributes or locations.

MarketWatch62 has a fly-out sub-navigation menu that appears when you hover over a breadcrumb link.

breadcrumb with sub-navigation example.63

Profoto64 has a unique breadcrumb trail: clicking on a breadcrumb link opens an area below it that gives users additional attributes to select from.

Experimental Example 2.65

Cranfield University66 has a similar fly-out breadcrumb scheme, which serves a dual function: as an location indicator for the user and as a robust and interactive secondary navigation scheme.

Flyout Breadcrumbs67

Lonely Planet68 also has a fly-out breadcrumb trail in which you can change attributes.

flyout menu - example 3.69

Clicking on a breadcrumb link takes you to that item’s page, while clicking on the downward-pointing arrow opens additional options.

Flyout menu - example 4.70

MSDN71 has a breadcrumb trail that opens a scrollable sub-navigation list when the user hovers over a link.

subnavigation example 1.72

Wowhead73 has a multi-level sub-navigation scheme.


6. Interactive Breadcrumbs Link

Delicious75 lets you remove items in the breadcrumb trail of keyword tags to help you quickly find bookmarks.

interactive example 1.763

7. Experimental Examples Link

Booreiland77 uses a breadcrumb-style navigation scheme for its primary menu, allowing visitors to quickly understand what they’re currently viewing.

Experimental example 1.78

User interface designer Aen Tan of AEN UI79 talks about a design pattern called “Tabcrumbs80,” a navigation scheme that combines tabs81 and breadcrumbs.

Tabcrumbs example.82


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Jacob Gube is the Founder and Chief Editor of Six Revisions, a web publication for web developers and designers, and the Deputy Editor of Design Instruct, a web magazine for designers and digital artists. He has over seven years of experience as professional web developer and web designer and has written a book on JavaScript.

  1. 1

    Thank you for publishing this article! I found it interesting how creative folks are getting with them.

    Of course designers should champion the importance of breadcrumbs in their designs. What I’d always stress to my clients though is that a breadcrumb does NOT replace a pagetitle.

    Just because they are helpful, doesn’t mean they solve every problem. (They are no Windex, you know).

  2. 2

    great as allways, thanks Smashing!

  3. 3

    Really usefull article, thanks.

  4. 4

    Simon Harlinghausen

    March 17, 2009 1:35 pm

    And I thought breadcrump is dead.
    Surprise. Surprise.

  5. 5


    Recently I used breadcrumps below the title of the page ( H1 tag).
    This practice is wrong or can be accepted?

  6. 6

    Hi – i’m a usability professional by training. In many many studies involving hundreds and hundreds of users we have hardly ever seen people using breadcrumbs on top ecommerce sites. Personally i think they are overhyped a bit. they are a must have for SEO (like sitemaps). curious if the usability pros here have DATA (not opinion) about what they’ve commonly observed in the lab and so on? please share your data.

  7. 7

    @Ethan: I agree with you in that you should justify the need before implementing breadcrumbs. I’m a minimalist, so for me, a site feature must have value for it to be incorporated in the design. Relying on breadcrumbs as a crucial method of navigation rather than an ‘extra’ site feature, usually, is an indication of a poor site design.

    @Matt: Wrong in what sense? It’s all about implementation and styling: structurally, it’s valid.

    One thing to keep in mind is that it would be annoying for people who use screen readers. After they encounter the page title, they will always encounter your breadcrumb right after – when they’re expecting either meta data (like date of publication, author, etc.) or the content of the page – there are ways that they can skip it – but they’ll have to be familiar with your site’s structure first. Can we see a live demo?

    @Jane: Breadcrumbs are very helpful, but it shouldn’t be something to be relied upon. For example, Newegg’s attribute-based breadcrumbs can really help you find hardware that you’re specifically looking for. I think that it’s all about implementation, needs-analysis, and what your users want/need. Harping back on Newegg, their userbase is generally: tech-savvy, power user, computer enthusiast – so a robust navigation scheme with plenty of options is something that their users would appreciate.

  8. 8

    Yup, Breadcrumbs are really usefull.
    All I know is, they help spider read the structure easily ! :D

    Any good WordPress Plugins for the Breadcrumbs ? The One I used didn’t work at all .. :(

  9. 9

    Great article and examples. One that I would have included as well would have been

    They have a breadcrumb at the top of pages that is not clickable, just there to show you where you are at – but they also have another (functional) one at the bottom of the page, before the footer. I like the placement of this second one because it offers a way for users (who actually read the entire page) to navigate back up a level without having to use the footer’s nav , scroll back up to the top navigation or use the back button.

  10. 10

    Nice article. Go SM!

  11. 11

    Very good

  12. 12


    Breadcrumb NavXT is a very complete and stable WordPress breadcrumb trail generation plugin. There are others, but few work for all page types, or are as customizable. Sure, I’m a bit partial to it as I am the developer :). If you can’t get it to work just bug me on the linked page and I’ll help you get it working.

  13. 13

    I hate breadcrums that are using a slash as separator. It’s so command-line style…
    Plus, you have to be certain that no category will ever use a slash.
    For instance :
    Electronics / TVs / LCD/Plasma Screens
    can lead to confusion

  14. 14

    I’ve only ever once had a client who wanted breadcrumbs, but they’re a good think to know about, if someone does want it.
    Good post.

    • 15

      It’s not a question of whether the client WANTS breadcrumbs. It’s an issue of Best Practices. Where appropriate, breadcrumbs make a site more intuitive/user friendly for little additional cost/effort.

  15. 16

    I’ve started a lot of arguments over these. Breadcrumbs can often elicit as many if not more questions than they answer. Are these supposed to be where I am? Or how I got here? Glad to see this at least acknowledged here.

    I find a lot of user bases have real trouble defining whether breadcrumbs are location, path or attribute based.

    If you can justify them based on depth of content and audience need, then by all means. There’s a lot of over-reliance on these IMHO. Reserve them for sites where you have to assume your users will get lost – but don’t use it as an excuse for poor IA.

  16. 17

    Thanks very good and informative. I always wanted to know that how that term comes “Breadcrumb” now i got it. :)

  17. 18

    I usually make it on a classic way, this article is giving me some ideas for desgning it in the future. Thanx a lot.

  18. 19

    I miss the best best practices to built such breadcrumb navigations. What I had expected is the recommendation to use list tags or put every think in structured div container?

  19. 20

    Like it! Keep it up!

  20. 21

    Very informative article…

  21. 22

    It would have been nice to talk a bit about the implementation of breadcrumbs in the different platforms (like html, dreamweaver extensions, typo3, wordpress etc.)

    But anyway great!!


  22. 23

    Great article. Would love to have you re-visit our site in about 2 weeks – we are in the middle of a re-design and one of the most important fixes is the Nav structure (including breadcrumbs).


  23. 24

    Abdulsalam Alasaadi

    March 17, 2009 9:22 pm

    thanx.. thats a very rich article.. keep it up.

  24. 25

    nice article

  25. 26

    Thanks for the article that I just happened to fall upon. I thought I knew most of this but really enjoyed seeing your review of newer uses. The comments are provocative too to think of seo and actual user benefits. I use, especially in large sites, them but perhaps that’s because I am familiar with them.

  26. 27

    Since I added breadcrumb navigation to my layouts, I’ve never looked back ever since – they help my visitors find their way around the website. However, I’ve read debates regarding using unordered lists (and then floating the <li> tags later) over using <span> instead. Some people claim that it’s a violation of web semantics to use unordered list because each subsequent item is actually a ‘child’ of the previous one. Personally I have no qualms using unordered list for breadcrumbs, but since you’ve did an excellent writeup on this, what are you views?

  27. 28


  28. 29

    For one of our new websites, I combined a breadcrumb with a navigation list that looks like a tree-view (great for hierarchy).
    You can see an example on this page (tree-view on the left).

  29. 30

    @ Matt: It can be accepted depending on the design…

    but I’ve normally noticed it above the page title..

  30. 31

    Breadcrumbs are very useful for the user in large websites / portals.
    I used them a couple of time in the past.
    I think they could be considered also as a nice graphic element to place in pages, with creativity.


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