Making it as easy as possible for your visitors to find the most important posts and pages on your website is an essential task you should focus on when setting up and maintaining your WordPress website.

According to this infographic from KISSmetrics, poor navigation is right up there with slow loading times and bad design when it comes to the top reasons why visitors will abandon your website not long after they’ve first arrived. It can be hard enough getting visitors to your website in the first place. Therefore it makes sense to do all you can to keep them there. This should be a priority not only when creating your website, but also something that you work on improving on an ongoing basis.

Considering website navigation is so important when it comes to visitor retention, and the fact that WordPress includes a pretty good menu manager tool, there really is no excuse for not mastering of this vital element of your website. So in this guide to using the WordPress menu manager, we will give you all the information you need to ensure that a lack of usable navigation isn’t causing your hard-won visitors to hit the back button.

What are WordPress Navigation Menus?

The type of navigation menus your WordPress website makes use of will vary depending on the theme you’ve chosen. However, in most cases, your website will feature a horizontal navigation menu bar at the top of the page.

Navigation Header Menu

A second option, and one which is growing in popularity, is to display the main navigation menu, vertically, in the sidebar area of a website. Furthermore, you might even see menus in the footer and other areas of a website.

Navigation Sidebar Menu

The list of links that are displayed in these menus can all be fully customized. It’s even possible to enable WordPress to automatically add new items to these menus as they get published. Creating tiered dropdown menus, is also very straightforward with WordPress; as is adding external links to your social media profiles or other websites.

As the main navigation menu of your website is one of the first places many visitors will click upon arrival, it’s well worth the small time investment required to learn how they work.

Creating Your WordPress Website Navigation Menus

When it comes to creating your WordPress website navigational menus, in most cases, the action takes place through the menu manager tool. This feature is a core part of WordPress, which can be accessed from the admin area of your website.

WordPress Menu Manager Explained

However, in some instances your chosen WordPress theme will feature its own proprietary menu manager interface – so, if this is the case, do check your theme’s documentation for information on using that custom menu system.

If your theme of choice does rely on the core menu manager, it can be accessed by clicking on the Menus item, which is found under the Appearance menu. Doing so will take you to the page where you can create and manage the existing menus on your website.

Navigation Appearance Menu Item

As the menu we will now build will contain links to the published content on your website, make sure you’ve at least created the essential pages all websites should include. Otherwise you will have nothing to add to your menu.

Creating a Menu

Again, depending on the state of your website and which theme you are using, there may already be at least one existing menu on your website. However, if you are working on a new WordPress website, or you want to start afresh with a new menu, click on the ‘create a new menu’ link to get started.

Navigation Create New Menu

The first step is to give your new menu a name. This is just for your reference, so give it a meaningful name, such as ‘main menu’, then hit the Create Menu button.

Navigation Menu Name

Once the menu has been created, you can begin adding items to it to build up your navigation system.

Adding and Removing Menu Items

Adding links to your published content to the menu is very straightforward. Simply select the items in the panels in the left column by checking them, and then click the Add to Menu button.

Navigation Add Items

By default you will see Pages, Links, and Categories in the left column. However, if you want to add posts or tags to your menu, you can display these items by clicking on the Screen Options tab in the top right corner of the screen.

Navigation Screen Options

From the screen options, you can choose which types of content to make available. Once you’ve added a few items to your menu, you will begin to get a better idea of how your navigation system is forming.

Navigation Menu Structure

Adding Custom Links

As well as adding links to the content of your website, you can also add external, or custom links to your menu. This could include links to your social media profiles, other websites you own, recommended blogs, or other resources for your visitors.

To add these links, click on the Links panel in the left column. From there you can enter the address or URL of the link, as well as the link text or title for the item.

Navigation Add Links

After clicking on the Add to Menu button, the new link will now be included in the menu. If you’d like this link, or any others to open in a new browser window or tab, you can display this option by selecting it from the screen options settings.

Navigation Link Target

After checking the Link Target option, you can then expand the menu item to set the link to open in a new window/tab.

Navigation Set Link Target

Now when a visitor clicks on that link, it will open up in a new browser window or tab, leaving the current page open for later use.

Renaming Menu Items

To make your menu more aesthetically pleasing, or easier to interpret, you can easily rename any of its items. Clicking on a menu item will display its properties. You can then edit the navigational label that is displayed to your visitors.

Navigation Edit Label

This only changes the label used by the menu, and not the title of the destination page. If your menus are looking too crowded, or it isn’t immediately clear where each link will take the visitor, being able to rename them can quickly rectify this.

Organizing the Menu Structure

Once you’ve added a few items to the menu, you will probably want to start reorganizing its items to improve the user experience. Thankfully this is very easy, and can be done simply by dragging and dropping the items into place.

Navigation Drag and Drop

When it comes to organizing the order of your menu, the first and last items receive the most attention. Therefore it’s a good idea to position the pages you’d like to promote the most in those locations.

Creating Multi-level Drop Down Menus

To maximize the available the space offered by your menu, you can create multi-level drop down menus with ease. This effect can be achieved by dragging and dropping the menu items into a nested position.

Navigation Drop Down

While you can have multiple levels of depth to your drop down menus, for better usability, only going one-level deep is recommended.

Menu Settings

Now that you’ve created the foundation of your main navigation system, it’s time to take a quick look at the menu settings.

Navigation Menu Settings

These options determine where the menu you are working on will be displayed. Depending on your theme, you will have at least one location to choose from. It’s worth experimenting with the available locations to determine exactly where they are on your website.

There is also an option to have WordPress automatically add new pages to the menu. In most cases you will want to leave this option unchecked as it could cause your carefully organized menu to become disrupted, each time you publish a new page.

Manage Menu Locations

Once you’ve created one or more menus, you can control where on your website they are displayed from the options available from your theme.

Navigation Menu Locations

From the Manage Locations tab you can select which menu to display where. This allows you to quickly swap over the existing menus on your website.

Navigation Front End View

After you’ve saved your changes, you can switch to the front end view of your website, in order to see how your menus look.

Using the WordPress Menu Widget

WordPress also includes a widget that allows you to display your menus in the sidebar, footers, and other widgetized areas of your theme. This gives you another opportunity to make it even easier for your visitors to find your most important content.

To make use of this feature, navigate to the widgets page (Appearance > Widgets) and then locate the Custom Menu widget.

Navigation Widgets

After clicking on the widget to add it to your sidebar or other widget area, you can then select which menu to display with it.

Navigation Custom Menu Widget

By using this widget, you can display an existing menu, or create a new menu specifically for the sidebar or other widget areas of your website.

Conclusion

Managing the navigation menus of your WordPress website hasn’t always been this easy. Thanks to the constant upgrades and improvements to this software, the menu manger of WordPress is surprisingly straightforward to use once you’ve become familiar with it.

If you are adding new content to your blog on an ongoing basis, it’s a good idea to check in at regular intervals and reevaluate the posts and pages on your website that your menu links to. As the main menus are often the most used navigational aids on a website, they can be a great way to direct your visitors to your most important content.

When setting up our menu, remember less is more. Avoid clutter and only include the essential items. While drop down menus can remove some clutter, don’t overuse them, as they too, like too many top level items, can cause overwhelm. Keep your item titles descriptive and your visitors should be able to find exactly what they are looking for, as soon as they arrive at your website.

If you have any questions about using WordPress menus or any other aspects of starting a new WordPress website, please leave a comment below.