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Should totally disabling breadcrumbs have any serious impact on SEO?

I would say no, but I don't know if any of the major search engines would want or require you to have a breadcrumb or breadcrumbs div in your website as an SEO standard.

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    I never found that breadcrumbs ever did anything for SEO, just for users. Do what you feel is right for your site. One of my sites, I deleted breadcrumbs. I thought it would be good for users, but then I found it was almost totally useless for my site. I only added them because I thought it was a good thing for users, but also because so many said it was good for search. Guess what? The reality is, I found no benefit for search placement. As well, it seems Google mostly ignores them except for sometimes with no pattern that I can see and no consistency that makes any sense. I gave up. Cheers!! – closetnoc Nov 26 '16 at 3:38
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    Google employs some of the smartest people on the planet to build software that reads the page as much like a human as possible. In ye olde times you had to help Google with explicit links, text navigation, breadcrumbs and the like, but today that's not very important. In any case, Google is far more interested in the content of a particular page than in where it falls in the hierarchy you have defined for your site. The search engine's goal is to surface content (i.e. pages), not web sites. – Charles Jaimet Nov 26 '16 at 18:56
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    @CharlesJaimet Besides being useful for users, the idea behind using breadcrumbs was to increase links between pages and to signal semantic value and importance to the target pages. Unfortunately, breadcrumb links are rather short link text wise and lend only limited semantic value. As well, as part of an SEO strategy, they were overused in sculpting and quickly became fodder for spam. I do not feel that Google really ever took breadcrumbs too seriously except displaying in the SERPs where they ended up having little value in increasing CTR. Sad. They can still be good for users. Cheers!! – closetnoc Nov 27 '16 at 5:50
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    @closetnoc Agreed. They are now and have always been primarily a tool for users. Google can see a site's hierarchy from the navigation structure and has plenty of other indicators to determine relative page weight within a site. Keep the breadcrumbs if they have positive UX value, but don't worry about their SEO value. – Charles Jaimet Nov 27 '16 at 15:57
  • @CharlesJaimet Amen brother! ;-) – closetnoc Nov 27 '16 at 16:13
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A lot depends on how good or otherwise your internal linking is besides breadcrumbs.

If breadcrumb links are compensating for deficiencies elsewhere, removing them could of course have an SEO impact. If not, then any effect is likely to be negligible.

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"If any of the major search engines would want or require you to have... breadcrumbs... ?" The answer to this is 'no'. There is no requirement to have breadcrumbs. Therefore there's unlikely to be a serious effect on SEO. There'll certainly not be any sanction.

As many of the answers and comments say - the degree of SEO effect depends on how strong your site is currently on all manner of SEO factors. I have been able to improve a sites listing in SERPs by just implementing breadcrumbs. However, the site was incredibly weak in all other aspects.

It can help the search engines understand your site structure better and this can help with listing.

The most important thing here though is that visitors to your site tend to benefit from breadcrumbs. If you remove them, the behaviour on your site may change. Visitors may not find their way to things as much as they do now... I have a theory this could feasibly contribute to increased bounces... just a theory though.

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