Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Menus

Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Menus

Beginner's Guide to WordPress Menus-Two men confused while reading French menuWordPress offers an excellent way to manage your site’s menus, but it may not be apparent when you first install your site. In fact, a fresh installation doesn’t use the easy menu system at all–you have to hook that up yourself. Follow along as I show you the menu system basics and how to start using it on your new site.

Watch and learn

Working with the original WordPress menus

When you first install a new WordPress site, most menus work in what I call “the old way.” For my example, let’s refer to the Twenty Eleven theme. Out of the box, the theme’s top navigation menu is populated automatically. Each new page (as opposed to post) added to your site is automatically added to the menu, in alphabetical order. Thankfully, child pages look nice in the menu, appearing as second- and third-level pages, accordingly.

So what’s the problem?

Put succinctly, this method of populating the menu limits you in the following ways:

  1. No control over the order of menu items.
  2. No control to leave some pages off the menu.
  3. No way to add anything other than pages.

Changing menus the hard way

Hang on–there’s always a way to get what you need in WordPress. If you understand a few template tags and don’t mind editing the code in your theme’s template, you can control all those things and more. The point is, menus should be manageable from a friendly user interface–not from backend code requiring some technical knowledge.

WordPress Menus-Screenshot of template code for adding old-style navigation menus

WordPress menu management to the rescue

WordPress Menus-Screenshot of menu item editing screenDrag, drop, and done

The first step in the menu management interface is to create a new menu. Then, you can add any page, post, category page, custom link, and more to the menu. Finally, arrange the order of menu items by dragging and dropping them where they need to be. Even creation of sub-menus is but a click-and-drag away, intuitively represented by indenting sub-menus in the interface.

Tell your menus where to go

WordPress Menus-Screenshot of theme locations panelAfter you’ve built one or more menus, simply assign them to different menu locations supported by your theme. It’s rare for themes to not support at least 1 menu location. If your favorite theme has no locations, you can check out my article showing how to easily add menu support to any theme.

No menu support in your favorite theme? No problem.

WordPress Menus-Screenshot of Menu Widget setupWhether or not your theme supports menu locations, you can add menus to sidebars as widgets. Simply add a widget to the sidebar of your choice. You can give the widget a title, tell it which menu to display, and you’re off to the races–as they say.

Botched-up navigation menus no longer excused

Before WordPress 3 gave us menu management, I might see an otherwise fantastic website with a horrible, buggy global navigation menu. I would usually purse my lips and nod my head, understanding what a pain it was to get drop down menus working right.

There is no reason for such a menu mess in WordPress any more.

After viewing this tutorial, you should be able to manage your own site menus with few problems. Let me know what you think of the tutorial, and hit me up if you have any questions.


  • Photo of confused guys looking at French menu–photo by: guybrariang