November 20, 2009
There was a distinct dichotomy between those websites built for users and those employing search engine optimization tactics of the day. The split mainly occurred in regards to content and keyword usage - remember, the main 'factor' search engines looked at back then was keyword density in the content of pages. Unfortunately, those sites might not have the best layout or the usability of the site probably wasn't ideal.
But it's almost 2010 and search engines - their algorithms, ranking factors and usability criteria - have changed considerably. Now, search engines 'reward' those sites which are not only searchable but very user friendly. Keep in mind: search engines not only want their users to find relevant sites, they want them to STAY on those sites. If they stay on the site(s) they were given to choose from by the search engine, that means they've found something they like and their trust of that search engine rises. Therefore, they're much more likely to use said search engine for future searches.
While there are obviously many search engines, Google has been the 'Big Boy' on the Internet for many years, mainly due to their user-focused advances which strive to create a better experience and more relevant results for queries. Their latest advance: showing breadcrumb trails in the SERP snippet (for those sites which utilize this navigation type).
What Is Breadcrumb Navigation?
So, what are breadcrumbs and how do they benefit a user...or a search engine for that matter? Breadcrumb trails are a way to lay out navigation on each page based on the hierarchy of the site. They're horizontal navigation which is laid out either as a user clicks through the site or show the hierarchical relationship of the current page.
While it's clearly a part of a website's design/architecture, breadcrumb navigation is also clearly a user feature. From a usability standpoint, breadcrumb navigation is extremely helpful since it tells site visitors - at a glance - the path taken to reach the curent page while also providing links back to either the parent pages or home page.
Why Would Google Show Site Hierarchy in the Search Results Snippet?
- Breadcrumb navigation links are live right on the SERP, giving the user access to not only the specific page relevant to the search, but the hierarchy (within the site) of that page.
- The breadcrumb trail replaces the normal URL shown for the page in question. Sometimes with large, dynamic sites, the URL for a product page might be long and not user friendly (e.g., http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=pcat17080&type=page&qp=crootcategoryid%23%23-1%23%23-1~~q70726f63657373696e6774696d653a3e313930302d30312d3031~~cabcat0100000%23%230%23%23se~~cabcat0101000%23%230%23%2362~~cpcmcat158900050008%23%230%23%233~~nf4433139323020782031303830&list=y&nrp=15&sc=TVVideoSP&sp=%2Bbrand+skuid&usc=abcat0100000">http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=pcat17080&type=page&qp=crootcategoryid%23%23-1%23%23-1~~q70726f63657373696e6774696d653a3e313930302d30312d3031~~cabcat0100000%23%230%23%23se~~cabcat0101000%23%230%23%2362~~cpcmcat158900050008%23%230%23%233~~nf4433139323020782031303830&list=y&nrp=15&sc=TVVideoSP&sp=%2Bbrand+skuid&usc=abcat0100000). By showing the breadcrumb trail instead, Google's allowing users to see a relevant destination versus a long, clunky URL string which does nothing to explain the page.
- This option gives the user multiple ways to access the site: by clicking on the title tag or any of the live breadcrumb links.
- Showing the hierarchy of the page in question adds context to the search.
Clearly in the last decade search optimization has become more blended into design and architecture of a site. Here we're seeing evidence of Google rewarding those sites offering visitors a good on-site experience by showing this feature right in the SERP.
The only question is, will this attribute 'stick' and is it the best experience? Take for example a search for a specific product, "canon 5d mark ii," a recent DSLR from Canon. When performing a search for this specific item, a search engine user expects to be led to either a review of the product or a product page with specifications and more information.
With Google's new breadcrumb trails appearing in (some) snippets, as in the above Amazon example, the breadcrumb trail ends at "Digital SLRs," the parent or overview page for all digital cameras, instead of the actual product page. Of course, the title tag still provides the link to the actual page, but if a user first notices the breadcrumb links and decides to click on the last link proferred, it won't be the product-specific page.
Only time will tell if showing breadcrumb navigation in the Google SERPs will endure.