You’ve been enjoying your WordPress adventure so far. You chose a great WordPress theme, put together a nice website, and brought your WordPress SEO machinery to life. The visitors started trickling in to your new WordPress-based business, but few convert into loyal fans or customers.
You check out Google Analytics, and your bounce rate is through the roof. So you decide to check every aspect of your website, but can’t find where the problem lies. What the hell?
Well, I will tell you this: your WordPress navigation menu could be the cause of your woes. A poor navigation menu system will keep visitors from finding that’s which they need on your site, and if they can’t find it, they will just do what every sane human being does – click the back button, and load your competitor’s site.
A great navigation system, on the other hand, is like a map that shows your visitors exactly where to go to find what they’re after. This just means without a great navigation menu, you’ll lose customers right, left, and center. Yeah buddy, having a great navigation menu – just like a rally driver has his/her navigator – is of grave importance.
In this step by step guide, we will show you how to design the perfect navigation system. Then we will show you exactly how to set up menus using the intuitive WordPress menu manager. And if that’s not enough, we will share a couple of hand-picked WordPress menu plugins that will take your menus to a whole new level.
How to Create the Perfect WordPress Navigation System
Are you ready for some menu adventure? Well, eat al carte… In this section, we will look at what makes a great navigation system.
Keep it Simple
The best navigation system is easy to use.
Don’t over-complicate your navigation menus by including pages that the user doesn’t necessarily need. Stick to your most important content – the content the user needs to stick around long enough to convert. Link only to your most essential WordPress pages, such as About, Contact, Hire/Product etc, and popular content that helps your cause.
Speaking of keeping things simple, do you really need that mega menu on your small personal blog? I don’t think so; mega menus are great yes, but they’re ideal for mammoth WordPress sites with a billion bytes of content, and a trillion products to boot. Keep it simple stupid.
Sitemaps Count As Well
A sitemap is considered an essential cog in the perfect navigation system. While helping search engine spiders to crawl your site easily and properly, Sitemaps can also come in handy when a user is lost, and/or encounters the dreaded 404 error page. Think of it as a navigation menu for your entire site published on a special page. Sitemaps aren’t to be feared, they’re simply pages that contain links to all resources on your site.
The best part is you can easily create sitemaps using plugins such as Google XML Sitemaps, or just go with a WordPress theme that support sitemaps inherently. Create a special sitemap page, and ensure you can see a list of all resources on your WordPress site when you load http://www.yousite.com/sitemap/. You can link to your sitemap from the 404 error page, or from your main menu.
Add Navigation Menus to Multiple Locations
If you were to improve your chances of winning the lottery for instance, you would need to play a couple of times. It has everything to do with the theory of probability. Similarly, to get readers clicking your links, you need to show said links a couple of times, on different locations of your site. The logic here is simple: the easier the reader can find the links, the faster they can click through.
By default, most WordPress themes will let you display your navigation menu in the header section, and perhaps the footer but that’s it. You can, however, use widgets to display your navigation menus wherever you fancy.
Best menu locations for maximum exposure include the header, sidebar, and footer areas. The sidebar is also a prime spot for categories, archives, and tags, so feel free to take advantage of these features to enhance your navigation system.
Add a Search Form
Systems break at the least opportune times. They tend to give in or fail when you least expect. Navigation menus are no exception, they fail all the time, especially if you’re using a third party WordPress menu plugin, and go tinkering around. At other times, the user simply doesn’t have the time to go several levels deep in your menus to find information. What to do?
You implement a search form, which makes it easier for the user to find what they want. Then place it in a prominent location on your WordPress site. For instance, don’t hide it in the footer section that’s only visible when the user scrolls down. If you have infinite scrolling in place, said user might never see the search form.
A search form is a fail-safe measure, as well a device that greatly improves user experience. Relevanssi helps you to build amazing search engines for your WordPress-based business.
Main takeaway: At the end of the day, just ensure your navigation menus are easy to find and use. Also put important content first, so it is incredibly easy to find.
Adding WordPress Navigation Menus
Now let’s create a great navigation menu with the helpful WordPress menu manager. Out of the box, WordPress comes with a great menu manager that allows you to create simple menus, including drop down menus. It’s a simple drag-and-drop manager that makes adding menus as easy as pie. Even a fifth grader can add WordPress menus in minutes.
How? Just navigate to Appearance -> Menus in your WordPress admin area:
This will launch the Edit Menus screen. If you, or your developer, never added menus to your WordPress site before, you should see this screen:
Go ahead, and give your new menu a name. We shall call our example “main menu.” Enter your preferred name, and hit the Create Main button. This will launch this screen:
As you can see, there are several options available. To the left, you’ll notice a list of your pages, categories, a custom links tab, and perhaps a couple of other features depending on your theme.
To the right, you have the Menu Structure area where you will edit and order your menu items. You have the Menu Settings area that allows you to choose menu location, and an option that lets you add new top-level pages to your menu automatically.
All you have to do from here is select your pages, categories, or add custom links from the left panel, and then click the Add to Menu button. In a flash, your menu items will appear in the right column, where you simply drag and drop them as you fancy.
Why would you want to add categories to your WordPress menu? If you’ve created posts (e.g. lessons) in different categories (courses), you can group the lessons into courses using this feature. It’s a helpful feature as well if you run a news site. I went ahead and added various categories to my example menu like so:
Let’s also add a few custom links to direct visitors to third party sites, or even our very own sites living on sub-domains. Just navigate to the Custom Links tab:
Add your link in the URL text area, and the menu name in Link Text. Then just hit the Add to Menu button. Always include http:// or your links won’t work:
When you’re satisfied with your menu, select the menu location, and click the Save Menu button:
Using the Manage Locations tab, you can control where your menu is displayed. Note, you can create several different menus, and display them in multiple locations depending on your theme. Each theme supports a different number of menus:
Going back to the Edit Menu screen, you can see our menu is growing longer, and won’t look great in the front-end. See how our example looks in the front-end for instance:
This is where drop down menus come in handy. I will go ahead and group all our example categories under Learn Web Design. This is quite easy. From the Edit Menu screen, just drag the sub menu slightly to the right like so:
Then click the Save Menu button. Now your menu will look like so:
Shorter and cleaner huh? You can create more sub-menus under existing sub-menus, creating multi-level drop down menus:
Our example WordPress navigation menu looks like this now:
What’s more? You can edit your menu items from the WordPress menu manager. Just click the arrow on the right of the menu:
That aside, let’s now look at some WordPress menu plugins you can use to build, or improve upon your existing WordPress menus. We shall cover both free and paid WordPress menu plugins to cater to your budget. Let’s start with free WordPress menu plugins.
Free WordPress Menu Plugins
We sourced the plugins in this section from the WordPress plugin repository. They are all free and the best and only the best, so you can have a great time working on your menus.
With a superb rating of 4.9/5.0 and over 40k active installs, Responsive Menu is a special type of WordPress menu plugin, that helps you to create 100% responsive menus for your main site, tablet, and smartphones.
It looks incredibly great, and with more features than you’ll ever need, there’s nothing holding back from creating the ultimate responsive menu for your WordPress site. Responsive Menu ships with over 70 customizable options that let you change menu titles, menu images, locations, menu depth, menu font and animations among others. On top of that, Responsive Menu is compatible with WPML, loads ultra-fast, and supports shortcodes.
Max Mega Menu
Would you believe me if I told you that you can build impeccable mega menus simply by dragging and dropping menu items? All while working from the familiar WordPress menu manager? You’d probably think I’m pulling your leg, unless of course you’ve tried the Max Mega Menu plugin.
It’s responsive, and supports all those sweet features you’d kill for. For instance, you can place widgets and icons in your menus, add hover intent or click event, and include elegant transition effects just to mention a few.
Other than that, Max Mega Menu comes with 100 other customization options, valid CSS3, and clean code that make for an awesome experience. This WordPress menu plugin boasts of a 4.8/5.0 rating and over 20k active installs. There’s a pro version with more features as it were.
WP Responsive Menu
Creating responsive menus just got easier and more fun with the WP Responsive Menu, a cool little tool that transforms your WordPress menus to elegant sliding menus that perform exceptionally well on all devices.
It’s fully responsive, comes with an intuitive admin interface, and integrates seamlessly with the default WordPress menu system. Add custom search forms, custom colors and logos to your menu, and hide unwanted items on mobile devices easily. WP Responsive Menu is simply beautiful, has a rating of 4.6/5.0, and over 30k active installs.
Nextend Accordion Menu
If you’re fond of the accordion effect, you’ll love the Nextend Accordion Menu. Even if you’ve never heard of accordions before, you ought to love this WordPress menu plugin. Why? You ask.
For starters, this plugin gives you absolute control over “…menu levels, colors, animation effects, and more.” You can easily customize how your accordion menu looks without any programming knowledge. This menu is best suited for sidebars, especially if you’re looking to save some space. All the same, feel free to place your menu wherever using shortcodes, and widgets.
The only set back is the free (Lite) version comes with only one theme. To get more themes, you must upgrade to Nextend Accordion Menu PRO version. Nonetheless, this WordPress menu plugin has a splendid rating of 4.6/5.0, and over 8k active installs.
Mega Menu by WooRockets.com
I was trying to steer clear of mega menus but it seems I can’t stay away from these beauties for long. That’s why I couldn’t resist Mega Menu by WooRockets.com.
What can I say? It’s beautifully responsive, user-oriented, and powerful at the same damn time. It comes with an intuitive menu builder that makes creating beautiful menus a breeze. With this plugin, you can turn your WordPress menus whichever way you want.
That’s not the end of it. You can live preview your menus, add icons and widgets to your menu items, use custom CSS styles, implement Google Fonts, and use unlimited colors among other features. Mega Menu by WooRockets.com has a rating of 4.0/5.0, and over 3k active installs.
Paid WordPress Menu Plugins
If you want to up the ante and take your WordPress menus to the next level, the following premium WordPress menu plugins should interest you.
UberMenu – WordPress Mega Menu Plugin
Apparently, mega menus are the new sensation in the WordPress menu market, and UberMenu is the hotcake. With over 45k sales, and a rating of 4.65/5.00, you can’t go wrong with UberMenu, a trending WordPress mega menu plugin that’s several rungs above your typical menu plugin.
It’s the number one mega menu plugin at Codecanyon, and comes with flexible layouts, responsive design, advanced content (so you can add maps and more to your menus), enhanced UI, and dynamic item generation among others. It ships with a powerful customizer that supports over 50 style combos, tabbed sub menus, multiple menus, and great transitions just to mention a few.
All these (and more) features are squeezed into a beautiful plugin that’s easy to install, learn and use. Ubermenu was developed and is maintained by Sevenspark, an elite author, and retails at just $18 bucks.
Mega Main Menu – WordPress Menu Plugin
Are you looking for the perfect multi-functional responsive WordPress menu for your WordPress website? Look no further than Mega Main Menu, a WordPress menu plugin that supports unlimited colors + icons, sticky functionality, 10+ dropdowns, 600+ Google Fonts, 1600+ vector icons, widgets, shortcodes, and awesome support among other features.
Mega Main Menu is compatible with WPML, BuddyPress, WooCommerce, Bootstrap, the current version of WordPress. and major browsers. It has an average buyer rating of 4.62/5.00, and will set you back $14 bucks only.
Superfly – Responsive WordPress Menu Plugin
Who does not love beautiful things? We all do, unless of course you’re the sadistic sidity type like one of my lecturers who failed students just for the fun of it. If you appreciate the beauty of astute design, and genius at work, you’ll fall head over heels in love with Superfly, a responsive WordPress menu plugin like no other.
Built by Looks Awesome, an elite author, Superfly is a vertical sliding/static/push navigation menu that adds utility and style to your site. To reveal the whole menu both on mobile devices and desktops, your web visitor just needs to mouse over the edge of their screen. How suave?
So what can you do with Superfly. You can add icons, advanced content such as maps, show menu on specific pages only, and add custom styling. Further, you can create multi-level menus, add social links, and much more, all from an easy to use admin panel. To boot, Superfly plays well with the WordPress menu system. It has an impressive rating of 4.89/5.00, and costs $18 only.
Suppamenu – All Purpose WordPress Mega Menus
Themebandits, the author behind this auspicious plugin, wouldn’t want you to jump in bed with the competition. That’s why they built Suppamenu, a plugin with great top features such as unlimited mega menus, sub-menus, 300+ style options, unlimited skins, WPML ready, 600+ Google web fonts, Font Awesome icons, sticky menus, and much much more!
Suppamenu is incredibly easy to use as it works out of the box. It plays well with a all WordPress themes, and other plugins. Works with custom post types, comes with unique social links, shortcodes, widgets etc. Compatible with WooCommerce, bbPress, WordPress, and major browsers. Suppamenu has a solid buyer rating of 4.62/5.00, and costs $16 bucks only.
STRIPE – A Lightweight Menu Plugin for WordPress
According to Bonfire Themes, the author, Stripe is a “…2-level menu plugin for WordPress, designed to add a little life to your site’s header or footer.” It won’t replace or affect your WordPress menu(s), but will remain fixed so as to remain visible at all times. As such, Stripe is a great menu plugin to implement links such as your email, phone number, or social links.
It ships with a million and one icons allowing you to customize the menu as you wish. It’s beautiful, spots great transition effects, and is thoroughly stimulating. The support is great and customers seem to be having a great time. For instance, pandemonium, one of the customers, says:
Great plugin. I’ve got it working in under 10 minutes. In fact I like it so much I’ve removed my previous menu.
Stripe has a great rating of 4.60/5.00, and will set you back $14 bucks only.
WordPress navigation menus are a vital part of your WordPress site. They guide your users allowing them to find the content they’re after. They’re great for improving user experience, and consequently, your conversion rates. The best part is they’re quite easy to implement, so nothing’s to hold you back.
Don’t leave money on the table anymore, invest in a WordPress menu plugin that suits your business needs. Have questions or comments? Share in the comment section below!