Despite NNGroup's praise, I notice none of the big players (StackExchange, Facebook, Google, YouTube) use breadcrumbs. None of the big ecommerce players either. Why is this?

Possible guesses:

  • Users aren't stupid, they know where they are
  • Breadcrumbs add clutter, and give off a 90s feel
  • Breadcrumbs are only helpful if the site design itself is bad and the pages that would normally appear in breadcrumbs are otherwise hard to reach
  • 8
    Breadcrumbs aren't much use for a blog structure, a sequence of posts organized by tags. But for more hierarchically structured sites their still as useful as ever.
    – obelia
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 0:13
  • I know at least one large ecommerce platform that still uses a breadcrumb style approach. You might argue that they're search facets rather than breadcrumbs, however it's worth noting that you can't remove individual facets in this particular area of the UI.
    – zzzzBov
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 18:32

13 Answers 13


Breadcrumbs rock!

And I think you have a personal bias against them rather than making a clear observation about their use.

I notice none of the big players (StackExchange, Facebook, Google, YouTube) use breadcrumbs.

  • StackExchange uses tags. Those are like breadcrumbs, but it's an associated way rather than structural.
  • Facebook uses AJAX inplace loading for most user content (so you never leave a page the info is related to), but the rest of their website uses breadcrumbs. For example, their online help.
  • Google uses page numbers in search results, and their portal sites are very AJAX-driven, but for the rest of the website they have a breadcrumb at the top, as in this example.
  • YouTube mostly displays a feed of videos, but if you browse channels then there is a breadcrumb, as in this example.

Users aren't stupid, they know where they are

They know how they got here, but not where here is. That doesn't make them stupid, but they can still get lost.

Visitors will be required to use alternative visual information to discover what the parent article is for the current article. Either the menu navigation or some other navigating method.

Breadcrumbs are consistant and common.

Breadcrumbs add clutter, and give off a 90s feel

Another way to say the same thing:

Breadcrumbs have been a consistent navigational tool since the early 90's.

Breadcrumbs are only helpful if the site design itself is bad and the pages that would normally appear in breadcrumbs are otherwise hard to reach

The effectiveness of a website's design, article structure and accessibility have absolutely nothing to do with breadcrumbs.

  • 3
    Good answer, especially for listing that there is a reason based on the content and technologies that dictates the use of breadcrums on the given example "big players".
    – kontur
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 14:45
  • What I wish for is some actual data on how many people actually use breadcrumbs. It's fine to make claims about how useful they are, but I'm not convinced that the vast majority of people ever use them. For example, if it turned out that only 2% of users used breadcrumbs then that would make them almost pointless. I shoot for that low of a percentage because only 2% of Google searches go past the first page of results, so it wouldn't surprise me that breadcrumbs got as much attention. Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 16:04

I think it depends on how you have organized your site's data structure. If your site presents information that is hierarchical in nature then breadcrumbs can help navigate 'up' a level to similar data from a leaf node.

of course, it's possible to organize some data into a hierarchical manner even if it isn't necessary.

Nowadays though, sites are trying to keep a shallow data set so most of the time breadcrumb menus don't make sense because they're only 2 or 3 crumbs large. This partly has to do with how targeted some sites are becoming.

Facebook using breadcrumb makes no sense with all the menus they have available in the app. They tried to make their data 'shallow' by exposing a lot of the things up front.

I haven't gone into facebook privacy settings in a while but the times i have used it I would have greatly benefited from a breadcrumb menu because it seemed like I was in a completely different section after clicking on one or two links that seemed to be related.

  • You make a good point about breadcrumbs sometimes being useful in particular areas of sites rate then globally. They don't have to be an all or nothing feature. As a secondary point; Having just had a quick check of Facebook settings pages they don't use them though, but then they've simplified the settings pages recently so probably don't need them here.
    – JonW
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 0:06

In my experience breadcrumbs are useful on sites that have some depth in the page hierarchy. The trail shows where the user is in the site hierarchy. Not only that, it also reveals nearby possibly-related content. Third, it's good for search engines so they understand where in the site they are, and can show context of search results.

Use of a breadcrumb shouldn't be taken as a sign of poorly-organized content; rather, it shows that the author has taken some effort for the end-user's benefit.


The short answer is it depends. On a basic website with a handful of pages, breadcrumbs are certainly unnecessary. But on larger sites (especially reference and documentation sites), breadcrumbs are extremely useful for navigation and orientation—one might even say they're downright necessary. The hard part is determining whether your site is large enough to warrant breadcrumbs or not.

All of the major players that you referenced do in fact use breadcrumbs on their sites; it's just that they only use them in certain contexts:

StackExchange Help Center


StackExchange Help Center

Facebook Developer Reference


Facebook Developer Reference

Google API Reference


Google API Reference

YouTube API Reference


YouTube API Reference


Our SEO consultants recommended them -- whether or not you expose them to the user, they can help keyword crawl. More here: http://usabilitygeek.com/12-effective-guidelines-for-breadcrumb-usability-and-seo/,

(I posted this article mainly for it's SEO benefits).

Current eCommerce sites: Gilt, Target, Amazon & Zappos (though inconsistent). I prefer Gilt's subtle implementation.

  • 2
    Doing things just for the benefit of SEO doesn't correlate to a benefit to user experience. Also they article is over 1 year old and tastes change quite fast in the world of the web. Is that article still valid now? (Especially considering the main question is about whether breadcrumbs are currently relevant.
    – JonW
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 0:00
  • 1
    Fair point. But SEO is an important tool for user outreach, if no users can find your product, then you have zero users to experience it.
    – user24822
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 0:02
  • 1
    What do you mean by keyboard crawl - a user pressing tab or other keyboard input to skip to links? Maybe you could also sum up the main points of the article for the benefit of future readers. Stack exchange sites are trying to serve answers, not links to answers.
    – kontur
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 6:45

I think you should allow your breadcrumbs to show only the hierarchical view of your site , not how you reached there, which is summarized in the browser's history (at least if you made your site bookmarkable). As usability consultant Jakob Nielsen says here:

Offering users a Hansel-and-Gretel-style history trail is basically useless, because it simply duplicates functionality offered by the Back button, which is the Web’s second-most-used feature.

A history trail can also be confusing: users often wander in circles or go to the wrong site sections. Having each point in a confused progression at the top of the current page doesn’t offer much help.

Finally, a history trail is useless for users who arrive directly at a page deep within the site.

So basically let's suppose we've got three entities in our application, Customer, Team and City. Each Customer and Team belong to a city and we've got a city-detail page which displays the detail for a concrete city. So next navigation cases are possible:

Customers -> Customer detail (id=2) -> City detail (id=3)

Football teams -> Team detail (id=5) -> City detail (id=3)

Cities -> City detail (id=3)

There are three possible ways of ending up in a city detail view, but it only makes sense to show the last path in the breadcrumb, the hierarchical one, doesn't matter where we reach it from.


As with so many things in UX, the answer is "it depends." I just concluded some user testing on a very complex site for a large gloabal enterprise. We tested it with twelve participants representative of the target audience. After guiding them through a half-hour of high-priority tasks — six hours of usage — I was surprised to see that NOT ONE of the participants clicked on the breadcrumbs, or referred to them as a useful navigational aid. I was astonishd at the number of participants who went back to the homepage each time they were given a new task, as if to somehow clear their cognitive state, or make a fresh start. The breadcrumbs were right there, below the main navigation, but were wholly ignored by the test subjects.

I'm personally of the opinion that breadcrumbs are still useful a useful device, but one has to wonder whether they offer enough value to occupy such valuable real estate. I always liked how Apple positions theirs at the bottom of the page, over the footer. That feels like the right combination of offering utility while reducing clutter, and it is my default approach these days. But, one should always consider one's users (an older audience is far more likely not to "get" breadcrumbs), the complexity of the site, the purpose of the site and even the design of the breadcrumb when deciding on whether or not or where) to include them. When in doubt, test, test, test!


Breadcrumbs makes user to imagine site structure which is too complex and not so regular now. Better to keep history of his session - user easily can find a page he visited 5 minutes ago with all his filters/search results/etc.


What I think is that portal style sites created with categorized "pages" are "out". And breadcrumbs are gone with them. Take this 5 month old site, http://qz.com/ (This is an example, not an endorsement of the UI). They roll through their entire content on essentially one page.


First of all, I feel that breadcrumbs are still a part of web design and still in for most of us. You mentioned in your post about the big players not using them anymore. I agree that they are not used by larger sites, however those sites have way more familiarity and traffic than the majority of us get. People are more used to those iconic interfaces and know how to get around. Secondly, breadcrumbs aren't just for knowing where you are, but being able to backtrack without having to re-track how to you got a page. If you are only interested in going back to a category page for example, you can click on a link in the breadcrumb instead of having to retrace your steps on how you got to that area in the first place. Those are my two cents :)


Personally, I like breadcrumbs or their equivalent and can think of two immediate examples where I use them a lot. 1) searching for a product from the Amazon homepage, going through a couple of other steps and arriving at a list of products with breadcrumbs showing me where I am (even though I didn't get there via that route). The breadcrumbs allow me to navigate up to other levels easily to try different branches, e.g. other categories or departments, without having to start the search over again. 2) The use of breadcrumb-type items in the address bar of Windows Explorer to get back to higher levels immediately (without going back through each higher level one-by-one). And better still, using a dropdown from a higher level to jump to another folder that branched off completely from how i got to my current location. But I'm guessing that not everyone reading this is a Windows fan... more amazing still is that this feature was a product of Vista!


There are many great arguments FOR breadcrumbs, and for the most part, the ones against it hinge on its age as a design pattern or the real estate they occupy.

My guess is that one guy wrote a post somewhere about ditching breadcrumbs or questioning their relevance, pointing them downhill into the ethos of post-modern design: where everything has been done before, what's old is dead, and that doing something differently than it has been done before is better.

Can you accomplish the goals that breadcrumbs achieve with another pattern? Probably. But that doesn't mean they're something for you to avoid.

They're a common, comprehensible pattern. They're great at showing a user's current "location" within some kind of hierarchy. They're great at representing progression through, perhaps, a different kind of hierarchy. They're great at quickly visualizing a hierarchy in a flat single-line format. And of course, they take up space. But a "." (period) also takes up space.

So what's right for you? Do you like them? Is using them a better alternative to re-inventing the wheel?

Keep in mind that you can't necessarily measure their value by looking at engagement analytics. Users may click them to change their position in a hierarchy. And users may only LOOK at them to know their position in a hierarchy..


Breadcrumbs are useful when people are navigating very hierarchically organized information, such as in Windows Explorer: when browsing the file system, they want to know where they are and easily navigate a level up. A programmer's IDE (such as my IntelliJ IDEA) is another example.

In other desktop applications such as Word or Photoshop you don't find these breadcrumbs.

The same logic goes for websites and web applications.

Some web applications show breadcrumbs only for specific areas. For example, JIRA (the issue tracking software) doesn't show breadcrumbs when you're on the Search page, but when you navigate to a particular Issue, it will show a breadcrumb where the first level is the project and the second level is the issue key. If the issue is a subtask, the second level is the parent issue's key and the third level is this issue's key. This is true even if you didn't go through the parent issue but just navigated from the search results.

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