A few years ago for reasons unknown to me, the maker of WordPress removed the built-in menu capability. This sprouted a number of plugin add-ons which helped people create menus for their websites. Some were pretty clumsy, most added all kinds of code that sometimes weren’t compatible with other plugins, some worked very well for the end user but were a bit of a nightmare to set up and configure and some were downright fantastic. No matter how you look at it, a website must have a user-friendly navigation system and it just didn’t make a whole lot of common sense to not have this essential functionality be included as part of the WordPress system.
Well, that’s all changed now because the WordPress people are once again including a menu that’s pretty darn customizable but it also can be a bit confusing for do-it-your-selfers unless you have help from someone who’s figured out how it works.
Does Your Theme Support the MENU Feature?
The first thing you must determine is if your theme supports the WordPress MENU feature. This is found under the Appearance link in the admin navigation: Appearance –> Menus. Look at the very top of the page and if the message below is displayed, you cannot make menus in the way I’m going to show you. Making custom menus works differently and I’m not going to get into this at the moment.
If you look under the word MENUS in the second image for “Theme Locations” WordPress will also tell you how many menus you can make with your theme. My theme supports one menu, but there are themes available that will support more than one. No sweat though, if you wish to add another menu to your sidebar, you can use a widget for this. But that’s another something I’m not going to go into here.
Locate the Menu Configuration Page
I’m including a screenshot of what my menu looks like but remember that when you first view your own menu page, there will be no entries in the menu.
First you will give your menu a name. I’ve chosen Top Nav because my site navigation is horizontal near the top of my site pages. You can call it anything you like.
Click the SAVE MENU button after naming it. You can’t see this button in this screenshot because it’s on the right side of the page, but it’s quite visible so you shouldn’t have any problem finding it. I’ve found that occasionally this menu system can act a bit flakey so it would be to your benefit to click the SAVE MENU button often.
You can elect to checkmark the box to the right of the menu name to Automatically add new top-level pages if you like. I don’t use this feature on my site because I have a pretty extensive menu which is also quite a tight horizontal fit space-wise and I want more control over what new pages are added to the menu or not. If you have lots of room and/or fewer top level pages to display you might like this feature.
Pages and Posts
The box on the lower left are your site pages, you can’t see it but below that is another box just like it with your posts list. This is one of the nifty things I like about this menu system, you can add pages and posts to one menu if you like!
To Make Your Menu
Checkmark the boxes next to the page title (or post titles) you wish to add to your menu and then click the ADD TO MENU button at the bottom of the associated box. Your page or post titles will populate the section on the right but they will populate it as all top-level menu items. This will work for sites with a small number of menu items, but if you want a drop down menu you have to do some manual arranging. You can also manually arrange your pages if you don’t like the order in which this section was populated.
You can add a bunch of menu items all at once by checking multiple boxes, or add them one or more at a time in the same fashion.
To make a drop down effect (note the indented visual in the image) simply click and hold the menu item bar that you wish to be displayed under a main menu item and then slide it to where you want it to go. You will see dashed rectangular boxes as you do this and this is where you’d “drop” your menu item (let go of the mouse) when you have it located where you want it.
Don’t forget to save as you go along. As you save your menu, your page links will appear on your site in your menu. If you don’t like the look of your menu as far as colors, font sizes and whatnot, that can be modified in your CSS file which is another discussion all of it’s own.
If you find you’ve made a mistake that you seem to not be able to undo or have difficulties getting things to go where you want them to go (that’s part of the flakiness I mentioned earlier) don’t sweat it. You can simply click the Delete Menu button and start over.
Happy menu making!