Custom menus are an extremely useful feature introduced a while ago, in WordPress 3.0. They’re an easy way of customizing your site’s navigation by adding specific menu items, letting you build your own navigation scheme however you see fit. Although they have already been with us for a while already, we’ve recently seen a lot of people wondering about their usefulness.

Why Not Leave the Standard Menu?

If you don’t create a custom menu in your site, an automatic list comprised of all your site’s pages will be used instead. The menu will be created according to your page structure, generating dropdowns for your child pages and such. This is the old way WordPress used to render your site’s navigation, back when the platform was a lot more focused solely on blogging. Back then, a lot of blogs didn’t require anything more complex than a list of pages, as the main content was the post list.

But if WordPress already supplies an automatic solution, why would you be interested in taking the time and effort to create your own? The answer is pretty simple: flexibility. The custom menu tool gives you a vast array of options when deciding how to implement your site’s navigation, which allows you to make small improvements over time.

Carefully Crafting Your Custom Menu

Your main menu is one of the most important elements of your website, as it is the main method for most users to move from page to page. You should always take your time when deciding which menu elements to add and which ones to remove, regardless of what type of site you have.

If you leave the normal menu as it is, chances are you will have a lot of pages you don’t want to appearon your primary method of navigation. You want to avoid this at all costs, since you must only include what’s necessary for your users and avoid any kind of bloating.

This applies to secondary navigation elements too, such as the footer menu and (in some themes) the top navigation bar. Creating a custom menu for these areas is especially important, as many themes don’t actually display anything unless you manually create one. This is normally done to avoid repetitiveness, as all fallback menus will take the same page structure and appear the same everywhere.

All navigation elements must be complementary to each other, while providing your users with all the options they may need to efficiently navigate your site.

Further Customization

Another interesting aspect of having a custom menu in place is the ability to customize each element independently. Not in the sense of adding the links you wish to, but also being able to assign different names and CSS classes to each one. Some themes may even allow you to add small descriptions to each item for use in the actual navigation (as is the case with our Brilliance premium theme).

Being able to add custom CSS classes to each individual element means you can effectively style each menu item as you please. This translates to having highlighted certain menu elements, coloring them according to your each page’s scheme, or even completely changing their appearance, just to name a few possibilities.

Custom menus are definitely a great addition to WordPress’ core functions, as it has greatly improved the flexibility of any site you create with it. At all times, you should invest the necessary time into thinking over what your navigation scheme is going to be, as it will be heavily used by your visitors. Having a well-designed menu in place can do wonders for your web traffic, as it can mark the difference between creating a rewarding user experience and having a cumbersome, unusable site.