Drop down menus are heavily debated, but when they’re organized correctly, they’re an ideal navigation tool.

Online publications often need these menus to help visitors find the right category so they’re not limited to the homepage alone. The idea is to make sure the menus are user friendly.

Organization and location are the keys to making drop down menus work for an online publication. A few tweaks is all you need for more effective menus.

Divide Categories

Many online publications have general categories such as Lifestyle, Tech or Breaking News. These make great menu headings, but they don’t make it easy for visitors to find specific topics within each category. Organizing a drop down to list secondary categories improves overall navigation and it limits the number of main menu options.

For instance, under Lifestyle, the menu might drop down to include Relationships, Life Hacks, Motivation and Latest Stories. It’s one of the more common organizational options and one visitors have come to expect. It’s best to have this type of menu either within the header or just above the main body section so it’s easy to find and use.

Limit Menu Items

Even if your client has 50 categories under a category, too many items in a drop down is daunting. Visitors would rather move on to a competing site than try to find what they’re looking for in a long list. The more items in a menu, the smaller the font has to be to fit on the screen.

When it comes to a responsive design, fewer items is even better. Advising your client of how difficult it would be to see numerous items on a smartphone screen will help them see that less is more. While there’s no set rule for the number of items, there shouldn’t be so many that it takes visitors more than a few seconds to look through their options.

Add Categories Within The Menu

For publications with more options, adding categories within the menu itself is a good idea. This option still limits the drop down to only a single level, but organizes items so they’re easy to see. Ecommerce sites often choose this approach to sort products by brand, function or room.

These menus drop down from a main category. A wide drop down menu appears with sub-categories with three or four clickable options under each sub-category heading. All sub-categories are spaced evenly for a professional look that’s easy to understand at a glance. These are often referred to as mega drop down menus and perfect for sites that need to list more options.

Keep Menus On Top

Some publications have tried to organize their menus by moving them to other locations on the page. Visitors usually expect any type of menu to be located near the top of the page. Clients could easily place the menus above or below their header. Visitors are used to see both options.

If your clients want to test the placement, a layout plugin helps make it easier to quickly rearrange the layout and place the menus in different areas. This will help your clients see which placement visitors like best.

Include More Than Subjects

The normal organization of menus is by subject or category such as Tech, Lifestyle, International and National. If there’s room, you can add in more options such as Breaking News, Latest Stories, Most Popular or Most Shared. This helps clean up the sidebar area a little and allows visitors to see more than the two or three stories listed in the corresponding homepage sections.

You can take it a step further by dividing those new categories. For instance, Breaking News could drop down into each individual main subject or by time, such as Past Hour, Past 6 Hours and Past 12 hours. It gives visitors yet another way to find exactly what they’re looking for.


Take the time to think over how any drop down menus are organized. Visitors enjoy drop downs, but only when it’s a single drop level. They also want items to be clearly visible. Maintaining whitespace between items and using an easy to understand method of dividing categories makes drop down menus a valuable tool for keeping visitors on a publication’s site.

Ready to start better organizing menus? Start by testing the best placement by using the Conductor plugin.

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