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Often times there will be nodes in a navigation tree that do not warrant a page, as their main function is to categorize the content found beneath them. When a breadcrumb nav is present on a site, what is the most user friendly way to handle these nodes?

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These are the few approaches I've been thinking about:

  1. Create a page for the category node, and just have it function as a navigational hub for that section. This isn't ideal as you'll often have duplicate navigation on the page that is already present elsewhere, or encourage fluff content to flesh out the page to not feel empty. The benefit is that all nodes will be linked in the breadcrumb.
  2. Have the category node not be linked in the navigation (like the example above), and try make it clear to the user what is and isn't clickable.
  3. Remove the breadcrumb altogether if the navigation is solid and the site is organized well enough to effectively communicate to the user where they're at in the site at all times.
  4. Introduce another row right above the breadcrumb which would include any non-linked category labels (see example below).

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Breadcrumbs offer users a way to trace the path back to their original landing point. In this philosophy every item in the breadcrumbs represents a page (and thus can be linked to). Are you sure breadcrumbs are the best way to go? –  Ruudt Mar 3 at 15:25
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@Ruudt: I disagree there. Breadcrumbs aren't for tracing back to the original landing point - that's what the browser Back button is for. Breadcrumbs are there to show the position within the site hierarchy the user currently is. –  JonW Mar 3 at 15:29
    
@Ruudt Personally I'd like there to be consistency throughout the breadcrumb, and if not to exclude it. However I could see there being deep sites where users might benefit from having a breadcrumb even if certain nodes weren't linked. It would come down to whether you felt the benefit to the user would be great enough to include an unorthodox breadcrumb in your site. –  ChrisK Mar 3 at 15:40
    
Can you provide an example of where this would be the case? The point of this type of topic-based breadcrumbs is to allow a person to back to the particular node they want to re-branch from. There should be a link in each case as that's how they would have originally gotten to that branch to begin with. –  DA01 Mar 4 at 19:52
    
@DA01 While not a perfect example Best Buy's website just leaves out the 1st tier altogether from their breadcrumb. So you have Home > Computers & Tablets > Software, where you might expect to instead see Home > Products > Computers & Tablets > Software. –  ChrisK Mar 4 at 20:19

2 Answers 2

Here is my analysis of your different options :

  • Create a page for the category node, and just have it function as a navigational hub for that section. This isn't ideal as you'll often have duplicate navigation on the page that is already present elsewhere, or encourage fluff content to flesh out the page to not feel empty. The benefit is that all nodes will be linked in the breadcrumb. - I don't recommend this since this would just reduce the efficiency of your site as you are just trying to create content to satisfy the breadcrumb navigation and content might get duplicated again.

  • Have the category node not be linked in the navigation (like the example above), and try make it clear to the user what is and isn't clickable. - This is my preferred option since users can make out if a link is clickable and the non-visibility of a clickable affordance will just inform them that they cannot return or go to that particular page. You can also build upon the fact that breadcrumbs are an visual indicator of where a person is in the hierarchy of the site and not a replacement for navigation (though they do serve as a secondary navigation method).To quote this article from Hongkiat

Location-based breadcrumbs indicate to the user where the current page stands in the hierarchy of the website. This type of breadcrumb navigation is most commonly seen on websites with more than two levels of depth or content. Upon moving further into a website users are provide with links to pages, or categories, that act as a “parent” or a level up from the page they are currently viewing. For example, a user may be on the “Speak” page however the “What we do” page is a parent of the “Speak” page while the “Home” page is a parent of the “What we do” page.

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With regards to how users use breadcrumbs for navigation I recommend looking at this blog post which has this to say

“The idea behind how breadcrumbs should be used is simple: the user ignores them until they get to a page that isn’t quite what they wanted. They discover the trail of links and click on the one most likely to contain the correct path to what they were originally seeking.”

Which I think is patently incorrect. A user doesn’t necessarily click on a bread crumb because they think it will take them somewhere better or put them on a correct path, nor is there any reason to believe they are used only by lost visitors in the first place. They click them so that they can surface up in a web site and potentially begin navigating anew. It’s almost like zooming out on a picture. Maybe they’ll look for the same thing somewhere else, or maybe they want more information on a related subject that is in that same basic branch of the site, and then again maybe they want to surface quickly to look for something new all together.

All of this said, make it obvious which is a clickable link and which is not. Here are some examples of breadcrumbs which make it obvious that they can be clicked.

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  • Remove the breadcrumb altogether if the navigation is solid and the site is organized well enough to effectively communicate to the user where they're at in the site at all times. - This is a information architecture choice you would have to make. However I would recommend referencing the above mentioned post which talks about how users might use breadcrumbs to define their position in a site or find a new path and hence breadcrumbs do have value. To quote Jakob Neilson
  1. Breadcrumbs show people their current location relative to higher-level concepts, helping them understand where they are in relation to the rest of the site.
  2. Breadcrumbs afford one-click access to higher site levels and thus rescue users who parachute into very specific but inappropriate destinations through search or deep links.
  3. Breadcrumbs never cause problems in user testing: people might overlook this small design element, but they never misinterpret breadcrumb trails or have trouble operating them.
  • Introduce another row right above the breadcrumb which would include any non-linked category labels (see example below).

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I dont recommend this since this causes confusion about how the current site relates to the site structure and the new design of the breadcrumb might cause some people to get confused about the relational mapping.

That said if you have a lot of sub categories under this main node (which has no link) you could do something like how Cranfield University has done where each breadcrumb leads to a flyout with submenu items under it

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The Cranfield University breadcrumb example you included in your response was interesting. I also noticed Google Analytics using a similar breadcrumb in their site content reports. I could see some weirdness if your main navigation was done as a dropdown. Having multiple dropdowns which possibly duplicate each other could be problematic. –  ChrisK Mar 3 at 21:25
    
Even if the main "Best Buy" page has links for product categories, a "Products" page would still seem helpful if it could offer a more detailed and/or less cluttered list of categories, or had a "search" box which would only search in "products" [as opposed to services, or store locations, etc.] –  supercat Oct 16 at 22:33

No. Breadcrumbs are navigation. As such, a user has the expectation that each node is a page (or view) that they can get to by selecting it.

The example you provided (which was good) is BestBuy.com where they have this:

Best Buy  ›  Computers & Tablets  ›  Laptops  › 
--------     -------------------     -------

This makes sense in that that is literally the nodes to get from the home page to your current page. If you want to select a different product, there is no 'product' page to go to. Rather, you need to go to the Best Buy home page to select from the 'product' menu.

If you were to add the 'Product' as a non-linked node, you'd have this:

Best Buy  ›  Products  ›  Computers & Tablets  ›  Laptops  › 
--------                  -------------------     -------

The problem here is that a user that wants to go to a different product category can't click on 'Products' even though it's there. This is confusing.

In conclusion, (one of) the purposes of breadcrumbs is to allow the user a quick way back up node change to choose a new branch. To allow this, each node needs to be represented as a link. If there is no 'page' for the node it's not technically a node to begin with.

Did best buy do the right thing? Hard to say. I probably would have advocated that they had an actual 'products' page in addition to the products drop down menu. That would allow the breadcrumbs to have an actual 'products' node.

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