“The purpose of this study is to further investigate breadcrumb usage by evaluating the following research questions:
- Do users choose to use breadcrumbs as a navigational tool?
- Does breadcrumb usage improve navigational efficiency?
- Does the location of the breadcrumb trail on a page effect usage?
- Does a breadcrumb trail aid the user’s mental model of the site structure?
Rogers and Chaparro —Breadcrumb Navigation: Further Investigation of Usage (Usability News)
The answer to each of these questions is pretty much “no”… that is, users of a fake website weren’t particularly more efficient when they navigated through a site that uses breadcrumbs. The researchers also note that “breadcrumb” isn’t really a good name for this technique — and they are right. Anyone have a better name?
The researchers did note a slight usability increase if the breadcrumb trail is placed below the title, rather than at the very top of the page. I’ll probably implement that soon.
While this study suggests that the presence or absence of breadcrumbs makes little difference to the users, I like breadcrumb navigation because:
If you only have a few pages on your site, this kind of structure probably seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. But if you plan to expand the site organically (that is, adding new articles wherever the need arises), this kind of navigational structure saves you from having to re-edit the navigation bars on unrelated pages, every time you add a new page. (“Navigation“)
Newbie web authors generally start with very small web pages, with each page linking to every other page. Each time they add a page, they add the link to every other page. At a certain point, when they realize they need yet another page, or they need to change the title on an existing page, it becomes a real bother, and they start resisiting the idea of letting their site grow further. I felt much the same way before I reorgainzed my site along the breadcrumb model (back in early 2000).
Of course, professional developers have access to menu-generating tools, and typically the new content is generated by someone else and handed to the web editor.
See also Croc o’ Lyle’s related links for “Breadcrumbs Affect User’s Mental Model of Web Sites“.