Is having a very large menu on a website bad? How many menu items should there be on my Business Website?
This Marketing FAQ article is a basic primer on how to construct a website menu using a series of questions that relate to the best practices of building a menu on a public facing website.
We’ll answer the simplest form of the question early on by saying it is not necessarily bad to have a large menu on a website. But there is more to the story than that.
A menu must be usable, easy to understand, straightforward and organized. In a world where there are plenty of competitors that are doing it right, a properly constructed menu should be an important pillar of your website design.
Read on to understand some of the nuances of Menu architecture. Here is how a menu should be built and how many items a business website should have.
Why Menus matter for SEO and Marketing
Menus are top level crawling material for your business by web crawlers. Its value, like most of marketing, is relative to your business, and will be evaluated relative to competitors’ versions. So do better.
A primary value of the menu is that you have chosen to showcase it as your desired structure for your website. You are signaling to the search engines what you value most and which core ideals your website seeks to implement. Each focused top level menu item may also have sub menu items and those will be signaling that they are either inferior in some way to the top level items, and/or that they are segmented parts that add value and delineate obvious differences in relation to the top level menu items they stack beneath.
An additional primary value of the menu is that it helps users navigate your website. It showcases what you want them to see, and how you want them to value the importance of the topics listed and the pages structured within the menu.
Each aspect is vital to the success of your website, and one should not necessarily be prioritized over the other – though many businesses tend to do just that. To explain: not all your traffic SHOULD come from Google (or paid ads, or social, or any channel for that matter, but it might).
You should construct your menus so that they take into account all the potential ways a visitor might interact with you. If they come from a purely SEO channel, sure, it might seem natural to build a menu to support that, but it’s more important to understand, you build a business online the same way you build one in the real world – by building a sustainable business that doesn’t rely only on a single channel of leads.
All that said, build a menu that reflects what you intend to reflect, regardless of how you source your traffic, and then tailor those channels that you use for traffic so that you can maximize benefit from them as users arrive on site.
That is to say: do not build a menu for the algorithm. But similarly, do not just build a menu for a certain type of client, either. Build a menu to reflect what the business does and what a user can expect from the experience of using the website. Build that experience based on how you want to have the business be interpreted. Traffic and conversion is just a subsegment of that philosophy.
Best Practices for building a menu on a business website
The following headline questions can help you understand what to do based on how you plan your business to be operating with potential customers.
What are you trying to accomplish?
A menu isn’t about trends. It isn’t about what the other companies in your sector are doing (necessarily), it’s about what you are trying to accomplish. A lead funnel on a single page web app, or a landing page will have structure that is different from a massive content behemoth. The journey should match up to what you want to see a customer do while there, and what a customer might expect to do while there, and those concepts are rarely exactly aligned. Your job is to create a menu that harmonizes those concepts, while educating a potential customer on what you want them to understand so that they can interact in the optimum way with your brand.
Further – it’s important to understand that traction is never truly achieved until you find that happy medium between what you want to be and what you actually are, and how a user can interact with you along that roadmap.
If you want them to see your credibility, give them places to go on your site that can do that with the proper feedback, inputs, markers and content.
If you want them to convert, give them reasons to do so, while pushing the education and credibility through proper menu links.
If you want them to give you something, make it easy to do that.
Never, ever, create a menu based on something you think you want because you saw another company do well using the model. It isn’t to say that you cannot succeed by using models in the industry or the broader marketplace, but a sustainable business is not built from other people’s moving targets, generally. Do what you need to with your menu to add sustainable growth to your business, while delivering on expectations for the users that they have formed prior to the visit. There are layers to that concept.
Are you using generic keyword terms that don’t apply to anything you do?
About Us is fine. Contact is fine. But try your best to avoid non-specific words that offer no value. This is less a “keyword” thing, than it is a usability thing.
If you are a maker of baseball bats, your top level menu items should be about baseball bats, not “sports equipment” or “wood” or “CNC machines”. There is no reason to be generic once you have a visitor on site – give them what you do, and let them decide where to go. Or steer them forward with adequate, applicable verbiage. Top level menu items should be generic enough to allow for sub menu items if applicable but never so generic that you cannot tell from a glance what you do for customers/users.
If you want to get hyper specific after that you can, but reserve your top level menu space for things that immediately prove they came to where they think they should have.
Does each Menu link end up on a competent page?
If you have a menu item that leads to 12 words and a picture, 99.9% of the time it’s not worthy of being on a menu. You need to deliver on perceptions, expectations and promises. Flesh out your pages, pick properly aligned concepts and make the content engaging, useful, informative but also easy to digest.
Never append a menu item to a menu item if the resulting page is thin or not intuitive upon landing.
Is there a lot of carryover between menu items?
Do you have more than one menu item that tries to do the same thing as another page/post/link on the menu. It’s not a best practice. That isn’t to say it cannot be done, it can be, even successfully, but it is not a best practice to duplicate content concepts on multiple pages that are linked in the menu.
This is VERY different from having the SAME page multiple times on the menu (which for other reasons is also NOT a best practice). It’s more palatable to do this practice, because there may be reasons for it. Especially on a larger menu with multiple large subsections. If it’s being done for reasons of SEO – then we can assure you there is a better way to get SEO value from the same pages. It should only be done for UX/UI purposes.
Short answer: don’t try to send conflicting messaging on a menu by adding more keywords and unfocused pages on the other end of the links. If you want to talk about different models of baseball bats, make different pages, but there should only be one category page for baseball bats. Optimize a page, don’t split its utility under some misconception that having menu link juice going to more links will be beneficial, it is likely to backfire on you.
Are the focal points created by the menu logical?
When you are creating the wording on the menu, are you shifting attention harmoniously, or are you just adding a jarring experience to your website? Do you add things that make sense to be there, or are you just trying to get pages which you like, to rank? A consumer needs to see logic – even if people may not always seem logical. Do the items listed in your menu belong there and in the place they are staged? Sure there is a lot of science behind UI/UX, but when you look at the menu, does it just “make sense”?
Make sure you have pages/posts linked that help mark the roadmap for the journey that is a blend and a culmination of what you want to showcase and what the potential client is expecting to find.
This harmonized vision of the ideal consumer journey on-site can change slightly over time. In order to avoid SEO penalties and difficulty later, do the up-front work to get it mostly right (or even perfect) up front.
Under the surface, is the hierarchy of the website making sense?
Are your top level menu items truly the hierarchical controllers of the links below them? If not, you may not be helping your cause. You shouldn’t push a page or post as a top level item with sub menu items just for keyword value.
That is not to say that you cannot break out an important page or post or section of the site that isn’t completely tied to the rest of the menu. It can be done, but it should be a standalone item and the menu items below it, if any, should be sub-hierarchical to it as a concept.
The point – be logical. Make sense. Don’t do anything menu related because of some misinformation you might have about its SEO value relative to the menu. Do things because they are the right thing to do from the harmonized version of all available relevant perspectives – namely your desired audience, your company, your intent, etc.
Are you trying to stuff Keywords?
The pointblank stance on this is, it’s stupid. If you want to grab value from the menu that’s fine, within reason, but pick keywords that make sense beyond some unrealistic push for more keyword exposure.
By the way, it’s OK to place specific keywords on the menu, just make sure that you lead the user to a proper page that delivers on the promises highlighted by the menu text/link.
Does it feel right when you look at it and use it?
When you look at the menu from the perspective of your industry, your business, and your ultimate customer journey, does it feel right? Be willing to admit if you are pushing an agenda too hard that doesn’t fit. Be willing to audit yourself without bias. Your hope for success should not outweigh your sensibilities in orchestrating a properly staged menu. It can help to dictate conversion, SEO and overall user satisfaction with your brand/business/company.
Have you tested your menu structure with real people who are potential customers/clients?
Does your menu pass the smell test with actual potential users, observers of your brand and brand ambassadors? More importantly, does it deliver on promises? When people see it do they have negative feedback? Take that feedback seriously.
A properly structured menu is imperative for the success of your website. After all, your website is about the only platform where you can truly control everything that gets seen about your business.
More than that, you need to understand that even Google will admit that Google is not the only thing you need to factor in while building your website experience. Your menu should be built to enhance the experience of the user, the journey you intend to show them, and the credibility of the business, and SEO should be the furthest thing from your mind regarding menu building.
The menu for your business website can be as large as is necessary to help the user accomplish their goals, while properly showcasing your website/app. But your website menu is primarily a functional tool that needs to be usable and straightforward, not a theoretical way to game SEO.