On-the-page breadcrumbs often mirror the directory path anyway. To my mind, it stands to reason that that clear, human-readable, hierarchical URLs can enhance a site's usability[1]. But I have no idea if users actually look at them.

[1] Note: I understand that there are security issues with URLs that are better off not readable by humans in certain circumstances, and there are also database-query issues that I'm not very familiar with. I'm imagining a more straightforward scenario navigating over a series of largely static pages, e.g. school.edu/admissions/apply-today/. Having produced that example from thin air, I just went over to Amazon (out of curiosity for a real e-commerce example), and its URLs aren't like this. For instance, Books > Computers & Technology > Web Design gives me http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=lp_5_nr_n_18?rh=n%3A283155%2Cn%3A%211000%2Cn%3A5%2Cn%3A3510&bbn=5&ie=UTF8&qid=1389965780&rnid=5. Perhaps this suggests the answer to my question is "No."

  • IMO if the site has such urls for all pages, breadcrumbs become redundant and unnecessary. Most sites with human-generated content that I frequent have such urls so when you hover cursor above a link, you will see where you'll end up. – user1306322 Jan 17 '14 at 14:16
  • I do that, too. (And that's a great point -- I hadn't thought of that pop-up URL when you hover over a link.) But do we know whether most users also actually pay attention to and leverage those elements? – in_flight Jan 17 '14 at 14:31
  • I'd say that depends on a number of things, but most importantly, if the url is visible at all (mobile browsing?) and whether a user is concerned about where the link goes. – user1306322 Jan 17 '14 at 14:44
  • What kind of evidence are you looking for? I use breadcrumbs. Not only do I read them, I also click on them to get me back to where I was. Beats having to use the back button several times. – Marjan Venema Jan 17 '14 at 18:10

There is definitely usability benefit in creating user-friendly URL's that are descriptive of the page. It is also beneficial for a search engine and will aid the performance of your pages in organic search if they are rewritten like school.edu/admissions/apply-today/ to use your example.

Breadcrumb trails are also beneficial for users to show the hierarchy of pages and to easily navigate to levels above their current location in the website. Many users will not be aware of truncating the URL's to achieve this same result but will be familiar with breadcrumbs. And there are also many instances where the URL path won't actually mirror the breadcrumb trail too of course.

Please check out this study that researches the usage of breadcrumb trails.

Further reading on this subject:-

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