Mythbusting: Google breadcrumbs don't just come from breadcrumbs

Ian Lurie

A few folks have published videos, etc. stating that Google’s new breadcrumb navigation in search results:
Is created when you put breadcrumbs on your site:
That is part of it, definitely. But there’s more to it. I can’t point at what, yet, but Google doesn’t always display breadcrumbs for sites that have breadcrumbs, and Google sometimes shows breadcrumbs for sites that don’t have ’em.
This site has breadcrumbs:
But Google doesn’t show one crumb. Not even a morsel:
This site’s been around for a while, has been crawled, etc. etc.. JCPenney has the same issue: Established site, lots of breadcrumbs on the site, none in the Google results.
I haven’t been able to find an example of a site that lacks breadcrumbs on the site but has breadcrumbs in the search results.

Breadcrumb factors

Looks like you need to have breadcrumbs on your site, that’s for sure.
But you also need a clean, consistent navigation structure. The two sites above have a few problems:

  • JCPenney has a hideous URL structure that even a mother couldn’t love.
  • Plus, JCPenney nofollows most of their navigation, which screws up their internal site link graph and screams manipulation.
  • Most important: JCPenney has two sets of breadcrumbs. That’s gotta be confusing.
  • The other site puts the breadcrumbs in a paragraph element instead of a list, or a div, or something else that would be a clear flag that it’s a breadcrumb.

It looks – and I’m reaching pretty far here – like Google’s checking for clear signals that some code on the page is indeed a set of breadcrumbs. Signals seem to include:

  • Use of list elements to organize the links.
  • Class or ID declarations that include “breadcrumb”. I know, stupid, it’s what I saw.
  • Breadcrumbs that are consistent with the site navigation. Just throwing breadcrumbs up on the page won’t do the trick.
  • Flow of PageRank that indicates a clear structure between the first, second, third link, etc.. If the first link has more PageRank than the second, which has more than the third, that’s a clear signal.

That’s what I’ve got so far. If anyone finds an example of a site that does not have breadcrumbs on it, but does show breadcrumbs in the Google search results, please let me know.

I’ll do my tutorial on how to read a log file tomorrow. This one caught my attention, and it’s my blog, dammit, so phbtbtbt.

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Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Right on! So I was right about the taxonomy requirement.
    Good call on the class ID. I was able to replicate this by viewing the source code of (Google “how burglar alarms work” to see their breadcrumbs). Here’s the class: div class=breadcrumb. Do a search for “computer keyboards” to find’s breadcrumbs. Their class is div class=scBreadcrumbs which is a concatenated word but does still include the word breadcrumbs. Damn, three in a row. I just searched for “tiger woods golf espn” and sure enough: div class=nav-main-breadcrumbs.
    Excellent research and great follow up!

  2. I like the idea of breadcrumb nav. but question whether a typical searcher will really notice the links. It would be nice if Google could hi-lite them better. I can defiantly see the benefit of leading a searcher to the exact landing page you want them to find, and most relevant of course only if they are able to notice the navigation points. Would also like to see any research Google has for clicks on this style of naigation.

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