How to Add More Navigation Menus to your WordPress Theme

Sometimes you may find an awesome theme only to realize it would be great if it had an extra navigation menu with important or frequently used links to increase the usability of your WordPress site.

With just a little bit of coding you could have the foundation of your new menu set up quickly, and ready for you to style to match your theme.

If you would rather not mess around with code, there are many plugins that can do the heavy lifting for you, and also provide styling options.

No matter which option you choose, the guide below will help you make it happen.

Basic Housekeeping

To create a new menu you need to edit your theme files. Before making changes to any of your core files, it’s best to backup your entire site in case something goes wrong along the way. You’ll be able to restore your site quickly and it will be as though nothing ever happened.

You can manually backup your site via FTP or using a plugin, such as our very own Snapshot or something like BackWPup. Just be sure you save a copy of both your database and files in a location separate to your site to minimize the risk of losing your backup.

Constructing a Child Theme

To create new menus with code, you need to make changes that would be lost when you update your theme. Creating a child theme takes care of this issue.

You can find the details you need to create a child theme by checking out a couple of our other posts How to Create a WordPress Child Theme and How to Automagically Create Child Themes in WordPress.

You can also choose to create a whole new theme of your own or try it out on a local or test site.

You can check out these posts for more details on how to create a local install of WordPress:

Once you have set up one of these options, you’re free to start creating your extra navigation menus. Though, if you decide to use a plugin or theme framework, you don’t need to create a child theme.

Creating New Menus

To add a selectable menu location option in your admin dashboard under Appearance > Menus you need to do what’s called “register a menu.” All it takes is adding a snippet of code to your functions.php file located in wp-content > themes > your-theme.

In cPanel, click on the File Manager icon in the Files section on the homepage. If you haven’t previously set your File Manager to load to your site’s document root, navigate there now.

There’s a functions.php file in your /wp-includes/ folder, but that’s not the one you need to edit. Make sure you find the functions.php file that’s found in the theme you’re using. Otherwise, you would end up with errors when trying to add the code found later on.

Locate your functions.php file and click on it once followed by clicking the Edit button at the top of the page.

The File Manager in cPanel. The functions.php file has been selected.
You can edit your theme’s functions.php file directly in cPanel.

If a pop-up opens, simply click the Edit button at the bottom, right-hand side. You may not see one if you have previously disabled it.

Scroll to the bottom of the file. If you’d like to add only one menu, add the following code on a new line:

In this example, New Menu is the name that will appear in your admin dashboard’s menu page to make it understandable for human eyes. The new-menu name is what WordPress will understand to execute your code properly.

You can call your menu whatever you like, but make sure only the human-readable name contains spaces and capital letters.

If you would like to add multiple menus to your site, add this code on a new line instead:

You can add as many new menus as you’d like with this method. The same rules will apply when naming them.

Save the changes you made to the file. Now all that’s left is adding the new menu to your site.

Adding Menu Locations to Your Theme

This is where you need to decide where you’d like to place your menu. If you’d like your menu to appear at the top of your page, you’ll need to edit the header.php file. You can also put it in your footer which means you would edit the footer.php file.

You can even display a menu on a page by editing its template file or to a sidebar, editing its sidebar.php file.

You can place your new menu where ever you’d like. Here’s the minimum amount of code you need to add to any of these locations:

Just replace new-menu with WordPress-readable name you chose. You probably want to style your menu with CSS so it goes beyond basic functionality and also looks great. To do this, you’ll need to create a class and add it to your theme with the following code.

Just like before, replace new-menu with the name you chose. In this example, I named the class I created new_menu_class. You can change this, but just be sure to update this code to reflect the adjustment.

Hit the Save button and head over to Appearance > Menus in your dashboard. You’ll notice your new menus will be listed under Theme Locations in the Menu Settings section.

The Menu Settings section.
The new registered menu items listed in the Menu Settings.

You’ll now be able to see your new menu locations listed. When you add a menu, you can select one or all of the locations.

To have links displayed in your newly made menu locations, click create a new menu at the top of the page.

The Menu page in the admin dashboard.
You can click the create a new menu link or enter a new name for your menu.

If you don’t already have a menu, you can enter a name for your menu in the field on the page, then click Create Menu. If you already have a menu previously created, you can click the create a new menu link toward the top of the page.

Once you have created a new menu, you can also manage the locations where they are displayed under the “Manage Locations” tab.

Styling, Plugins and Responsive Menus

Your new menu is now ready to be styled using CSS. The coding required is specific to the theme you’re using so I won’t go into it in this post, but we do have another post you can check out for that called How to Create an Awesome Responsive Menu for Your WordPress Theme. It also shows you how to create responsive menus that are mobile-ready.

If you would like an easier option, there are many plugins that will create responsive menus based on your theme’s styles. The best ones I found were Responsive Menu and Suppamenu Lite.

Some notable mentions you may also find helpful are ShiftNav, WP Responsive Menu and Max Mega Menu.

Resources for Going Further

You now have the solid foundation you need to create additional menus for your theme and resources to help you go further. Whether you code it yourself, use a plugin or a theme framework, you now have a new menu on your WordPress site.

If you run into troubles, go ahead and ask our support heroes. They can give you expert advice and support to help solve just about any problem. You can open a ticket in our support forum and we’ll be right along to help you.

For more information on how to style your new theme, there are many resources you can check out and you can find them all in our post A Mega Guide to Learning and Referencing CSS for WordPress: 150+ Resources.

You can also check out some of our other posts 10 Simple Tips for Learning CSS for WordPress, 25 Expert Tips for Cleaner CSS Coding for WordPress, 25 Pro Tips for Improving Your CSS Workflow and 5 Free CSS Plugins for Live Editing Your WordPress Site for more details on coding some CSS for your theme.

Jenni McKinnon
What kind of menus would you like to create? Feel free to share them in the comments below.