WordPress Custom Menus And Why You Should Use Them

Custom Menus are a really useful feature of WordPress and they add a lot of flexibility and power to the design of a WordPress website. If you want your website to look professional and you want to make it easy for your visitors to view what you want them to view then you should use custom menus.

What Is A Custom Menu?

If you look at most websites you will see that they have somewhere a horizontal row of tabs, which consist of links to pages or areas within the site. This row of tabs is called a ‘menu’. Menus are often in a prominent position at the top of the page and their labels provide clues as to where you will be taken if you click on them.

In the Twenty Fourteen theme pages are added automatically by default to the menu at the top of the page. But if you want to change how this works you can use custom menus, and not just at the top of the screen but also in the left or right sidebar and also in the footers.

Menus are optional: if you have a blog with few or no pages then you may not need a menu: a few widgets will be all you’ll need to guide visitors around your website. And you could leave it to the WordPress default.

However, custom menus are very useful if you want to guide visitors around your site the way you want rather than the default.

How To Create A Primary Menu

A ‘Primary Menu’ is one that your theme has already configured into its design and in the case of Twenty Fourteen it runs horizontally along the top, below the header image.

To construct your primary menu, from the dashboard, click on ‘Appearance’, ‘Menus’. On the ‘Edit Menus’ tab, click on ‘create a new menu’ link. Then in the box labelled ‘Menu Name’ type a name for the menu (it doesn’t matter what the name is) and click ‘Create Menu’.

On the ‘Menus’ screen you will see that there are a number of options here that make this a very powerful feature:

‘Pages’ enables you to pick and choose from the pages you have so far published. The beauty of this option is that you can put some pages in one menu and some in another and you can also order them however you want. Check the pages that you want to include on this menu and click ‘Add to Menu’.

‘Custom Links’ are links to anywhere you like: a page, post or even a picture inside your site, or a link to another website. Type the full URL of the location you want to link to, enter the ‘Label’, which is the text that will appear on the menu tab, and click ‘Add to Menu’. You can add as many of these as you like to the menu.

‘Categories’ refers to the categories recorded on Posts. If your website consists mostly of posts you can have a menu that enables your user to browse selected categories of posts from your menu.

As you can see, you have to check the items that you want to include on the menu and click ‘Add to Menu’. You can mix and match the different types of menu items in one menu if you like.

If you want, you can also change the ‘Navigation Label’ to a different title than the one that would appear as default. Expand the menu item by clicking on the down arrow to see the box where you can do this.

The items within the menu can be dragged and dropped into the order you want them to appear, and another neat option is that, if you have a lot of items in the menu, you can arrange them into a hierarchy by simply dragging pages slightly to the right and they will nest beneath the ones above. This makes these sub-menu items drop down when the user clicks on them, which is neat.

Now you must tell WordPress that you want this menu to appear as your site’s ‘Primary Navigation’ which, in the case of the Twenty Fourteen theme, is at the top of the screen, beneath the header image.

Under ‘Menu Settings’, ‘Theme locations’, check ‘Primary Menu’, then click ‘Save’. As you can see, you can also check ‘Automatically add new top-level pages to this menu’ if you want.

Then when the menu items are assembled how you want, just click ‘Save Menu’ and it’s done.

Create a ‘Home’ tab

One important tip is to always have a tab labelled ‘Home’ in your primary menu. This means visitors can always return to your home page when they get lost or want to go back to where they started.. To do this, create a Link in your primary menu which points to your domain URL (WordPress will direct them to the right page!) and enter the label ‘Home’. Then click ‘Add to Menu’, drag the menu item to be the first on the menu and then click ‘Save Menu’.

How To Create A Secondary Custom Menu

In Twenty Fourteen you can have a number of menus dotted all around the site. When you have a lot of pages, or categories, or other destinations where you want to send your visitors, this can be a useful way of dividing the navigation of your site into more meaningful sections.

In Twenty Fourteen the Secondary menu appears at the top of the left sidebar. In my site I have created a menu called ‘leftmenu’ consisting of three Custom Links which link to parts of the wordpress.org site.

Position Your Custom Menus Using Widgets

As well as Primary and Secondary menus, you can also create custom menus that you can position with widgets. To do this, from the dashboard, click ‘Appearance’, ‘Widgets’ and drag a Custom Menu widget into a sidebar or other widget area provided by your theme.

Select the menu to appear in that space and then click ‘Save Menu’.

As you can imagine, the possible combinations and variations on how you can use this are endless and it’s entirely up to you how many menus you have and where to place them. And it’s very easy to change your mind and reposition your menus as your website develops.

I hope I have demonstrated some of the ways you can use Custom Menus, but you can experiment for yourself and discover how you can use this feature to make your website look and behave the way you want.

FAQ

Help – I have just changed the theme on my website and my custom menu has disappeared! What’s happened?

First, you need to check that your new theme actually supports custom menus. Most up-to-date themes do, but there may be a few who do not make use of this feature.

If your theme does support custom menus then read on.

When you change your WordPress theme the new theme may not automatically register that you have set up a custom menu so you have tell it where the Primary and Secondary menus are.

And if you have set up a lot of menus then your new theme may not support such profligacy. You may be restricted to only one or two menus and that will be for you to investigate.

From the dashboard, click ‘Appearance’, ‘Menus’, ‘Select a menu to edit’. Then under ‘Menu Settings’, ‘Theme Locations’ check whether that menu is primary or secondary and click on ‘Save Menu’.

Repeat this for each menu, including any custom menus that you set up as widgets.


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