Breadcrumbs -- Good or bad?

InfoDesign points us to Website Structural Navigation, a test of the usefulness of breadcrumb navigation. To spoil the ending:

“The impact is clear—navigation bars are good, but more so for advanced users than novice ones. For large websites, they are invaluable.”

While I'm encouraged with the results, something about this study rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the problems mentioned at the bottom of this page that seem like they could skew the results. Maybe it's the fact that users are probably more likely to navigate within a small section (i.e. from Fishing > Trout Fishing to Fishing > Carp Fishing to Fishing > Magazines) than jump from one section to something totally different (i.e. High School Cross Country to Fishing). Maybe it's the fact that breadcrumbs never stand alone, and work best in conjunction with other links. (In the Yahoo example, the bolded Yahoo! Sports link is much more prominent than the breadcrumbs, and I'd be willing to wager that, even when the breadcrumbs appeared, more people would select the Yahoo! Sports link than the Home > Recreation > Sports link.)

So, though the results will provide “proof” for those who seek to back up their belief that breadcrumbs are useful, there are enough flaws for the anti-breadcrumb lobby to jump on.

Serving suggestion: With grain of salt.

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Breadcrumbs used for context

I use the breadcrumbs metaphore to retain context for the user. For example, if a user searches from a particular place they retain their original search context via a breadcrumb display. This allows the user to quickly return to where they were after examining the search results. Also, the search results will return items that are in different hierarchical trees, breadcrumbs are used to display the branch where the results are located. So, for contextual purposes I find their use quite compelling.