WordPress Custom Menus

Dashboard SidebarPerhaps you’ve noticed the addition of a Menus option in the Appearance section of your WordPress dashboard. You now have the ability to create your own custom menus, combining specific posts and pages with categories of posts to build your own blog directory. Some of the newer themes offer the option to include a custom menu as the theme’s main navigation. Even if your theme doesn’t, you can use the new Custom Menu widget to put a menu in your theme’s sidebar, footer or whatever widget areas your theme offers.

But that’s not all . . . You can have more than one custom menu – and more than one widget displaying them. And, if you’re hosting your own version of WordPress, you can use the Widgets on Pages plugin to include a menu right on a page. I have one custom menu as my main navigation just below the masthead, another in the sidebar defining the sections within the Gazette and a third on the Personal Publishing page (linked in the main menu up top) to spotlight my content related to that topic.

By taking advantage of these menus, you can insure that posts aren’t forgotten once they roll off the main page. You can build a site that points your visitors to sections and even specific articles from months and years gone by. Are you using your blog to tell your family history? Set up a menu for each family you’re documenting and as you write their stories, use these menus to organize the stories in whatever order you want.

Putting menus to work is really quite simple. In the example below, you can see two menus – each displayed in its own tab – with the contents of the selected menu items listed as topics and sub-topics. Here you see that menu items are post categories, individual pages and even series (pulled from the Organize Series plugin). Items can also be specific posts and custom links. A custom link usually points to something outside your WordPress system. I have used that in the Gazette’s main menu to point to my Amazon storefront (otherwise known as Moultrie Creek Outfitters).

Sample Menu

To create a menu, enter a name for it then click the Create Menu button.

Create Menu

Now, from the boxes on the left side of the menu screen, choose the Pages and or Categories you’d like to include in your menu, then click the Add to Menu button. They will be added to the menu in the order they appear in these boxes.

Categories Box

Once added to your menu, you can drag and drop items to arrange them in the order you want. As you drag across a potential drop area, a dotted outline shows where to drop the item. For sub-items, the dotted box appears indented below its primary menu item. If you don’t see an indented box, drag your item a bit to the right and it should appear.

Arranging Menu Items

At the right side of each menu item, you’ll notice a down arrow. Use it to change the display name for  that menu item. If I want my visitors to see “Research Toolbox” rather than just “Tools” in my menu, this is how I would fix that.

Once your menu is built, it’s time to place it on your site. If your theme supports custom menus, you’ll see something similar to the example below at the top-left corner of your custom menu screen. My theme supports both a primary and secondary menu, but as you can see, I’m only using the primary. Choosing a theme menu is as easy as selecting it from the drop-down menu.

Menus in themes

If your theme does not support custom menus or if you want to add menus in other locations, you’ll use widgets to put them where you want them. Newer themes are adding more and more widget areas – sidebars, footers and even headers – giving you the opportunity to place them almost anywhere. And then theres’s the Widgets on Pages plugin I mentioned earlier.

Menu WidgetsLook for the Custom Menu widget in your list of available widgets. Drag and drop it in the widget area where you want the menu to appear, then edit the widget to select the menu you wish to display at this location. In this example, I’ve placed the Personal Publishing menu in the Widgets on Pages area and titled it “Personal Publishing Resources”. Notice that this is Widgets on Pages 1. If I put widgets on multiple pages, I will have several numbered widgets shown on my widgets page.

So, now that you know how to create, manage and display your own custom menus, you can build a fully-functional family history site using WordPress. Combine pages and categories with custom links to point your visitors to more than just your most recent posts.