17 Major Main Menu Mistakes

  • January 31st 2014
  • by Marvin Russell
17 Major Main Menu Mistakes

Did you know that your main menu is a part of your marketing? It’s true. What your menu says gives your visitors a small indication of what your website is about and whether or not they are in the right place. Main menu mistakes can lead to high bounce rate, low length of time on site, and low rankings in search engines. Worst of all, main menu mistakes directly impact the amount of leads and sales from your website.

After 10 years in the business, I still see the same mistakes over and over again. I don’t think there is a single day that I don’t visit at least 10 websites, of which half are making main menu mistakes. So, I started taking notes of all the main menu mistakes I see on a regular basis, and organized them into this visual blog post for you. Let’s get started.

1. You say “Get in touch” instead of “Contact us”

When Steve Jobs said “Be Different”, he didn’t mean in your main menu. So be clear not clever in your main menu. Using phrases like “Get in Touch, “Let’s Chat”, or “Let’s Talk” is confusing. Many of your visitors are consciously or subconsciously looking for the good old “Contact” button. Don’t make it difficult to contact you simply because you want to be clever.

Main Menu Mistakes

2. A link to your blog is in your main menu

Your blog is a way for people to find your website. It’s not a destination once people get there. So, take it out of your main menu, unless your blog is a main part of the service you provide, or unless of course, your website is your blog. Place it in the footer so people can find it if they need it. But chances are, they won’t be looking for it.



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3. You say “Services” instead of listing those actual services

Remember, your main menu helps visitors understand your website. If possible, list your services in the main menu, instead of using a generic word like “services”. I realize this only works if you have a limited amount of services. But if you do this, it works like a charm. On one hand it informs people about what you do, and on the other hand, it gets them one step closer to your services.

Main Menu Web Design Mistakes

4. Your main menu is way too long

Hick’s Law says that the more choices you give someone, the longer it will take them to make a decision. So help your visitors make a decision by keeping your main menu short, and therefore simple to understand.


5. Your main menu draws too much attention

Your content should be your super star, not your menu. Many websites have these massive headers with giant menus that draw the eye toward the top of your site, and away from your super star content. Keep the main menu and the header simple and small. Don’t make it loud and obnoxious.


6. Your main menu is not responsive

Have you ever tried using a main menu on a cell phone that was not responsive? Frustrating! You have to zoom in and out and try your hardest not to click on the other menu options next to the button you’re trying to click. Responsive is the industry standard and typically converts your main menu into a drop down that is easy for mobile users.


7. Your main menu still has a “Home” button

For years the industry standard has been to not include a “home” button in your main menu. The logo should be the link back to your main menu. Placing a “home” link in your main menu wastes space and draws attention away from your important content.

I have read in the past year that the home button is making a comeback, and some people are arguing that it should go in the main menu. I’m not convinced. So for now, keep in out of the main menu.


8. You have pages with low traffic in your main menu

Stop cluttering up your main menu with useless pages like FAQ’s. Go through your analytics and see which pages in your main menu are most important. If some of those pages never or hardly get clicked then move them to the footer. Don’t forget Hick’s Law in #4.


9.  You’re not using active states in your main menu

A simple way to make your website more usable is to remind your visitors of where they are at at all times. Of course you can do this with breadcrumbs, but it’s also important to make sure your main menu uses active states. In other words, your main menu should highlight or dim the pages your are on at the moment. This lets the user know where they are at all times on your website.


10. Your main menu text links are too long

Your main menu links should not be sentences. At most, keep them to three words or less, but preferably 1-2 words. Surprisingly, many clients ask for this, and I find myself talking them off that dangerous ledge as quickly as possible. Some of the more acceptable longer menu links are: “What we do”, “Who we are”, and “How it works”.


11. You’re using fly-out menus instead of mega menus

Don’t you love the phrase “Mega Menu”! It sounds like an 80’s cartoon. But that’s not the only reason you should love it. They are far more useful than those tricky fly-outs that show menu after menu when you roll  over them. Mega menus show on large drop down with all sub menus in that category. Consumers Digest has a great example of mega menus.


12. Your menu is not in the standard location

OK designers, this one is for you. You are so guilty of this. Don’t try to blame your clients. Admit it. Sometime you get bored with the same old designs and you want to switch things up. Well, don’t put the menu on the bottom of the page. Keep it up top where everyone knows to find it. What if I tried to sell you a car with the steering wheel in the back seat? Again, be clear, not clever.



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13. You’re getting the order wrong

Again, study your analytics so you know what your most important pages are. Stop putting pages that don’t get that much traffic in the first position on your main menu.


14. Your main menu changes on different pages

Unfortunately  this still happens. It’s one of the oldest main menu mistakes I’ve seen for years. Never change the main menu on different pages of your website. it should be the same on every single page. Consistency is usability. Double check your main menu and make sure you’re not making this mistake.


15. You’re not using analytics to help perfect your main menu

Don’t just do what your competition does or what your web designer tells you to do. Test it out and make strategic adjustments. There are three tools you should be using to help determine your menu navigation. Google Analytics, Qualaroo, and Crazy Egg.

  • Google Analytics will give you quantitative insight into what pages should be listed in your main menu.
  • Qualaro will allow you to ask your visitors what menu items should be in the main menu.
  • Crazy Egg will allow you to visually see what pages belong in the main menu.


16. You’re using buttons instead of text links

Using text links has two HUGE benefits. First of all, you can easily update those links in your CMS without a web developer. Second, Google can read text, but they can’t read buttons. Google uses the links to your pages as indications of what that page is about. This directly affects your rankings in search engines. Of course you can put alt tags on buttons, but speaking as an SEO expert, I would highly recommend you use text links instead.


17. You don’t have a call to action button in your main menu

Every website has a goal. Make sure you have a button that stands out from the rest of your main menu items. This button should help your visitor achieve your goal. It could be a simple “contact” button, “free trial” button, or “sign up” button. Make it easy on your visitors so they can help you achieve your goals.



Don’t make it difficult for your users to find your content. Make it easy with simple navigation. Not only will this lead to a lower bounce rate, longer length of time on site, and higher search engine rankings, but it will also boost leads and sales from your site.

Site Audit



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  • barringtonhomes

    Thanks for a great post, I am getting most of it right, some things I am not savvy enough to change, like a Mega menu style. The only thing I personally disagree with is the blog button on the main menu. I got a lot of traffic on that button from all pages in the site.


      Hi There,

      The blog rule is for most websites, not all. If your blog is a major source of info and is extremely popular, then yes keep it there. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most people.

      Good luck :)

  • Love the visuals on this post! The call-to-action in the menu is super important in my opinion. Always be nudging visitors towards your desired action.

  • Alex

    Good work guys, I’m loving the post. I like the idea of a mega menu.


      Thank you. You are very welcome :)

  • Deepika Garg

    At first I thought could there really be 17 possible mistakes in that small menu? But clearly, there can be. Glad I didn’t stop at the title. Thanks!

  • Great post. Some of these are so obvious but easy to forget when designing a site.

  • oguzkaganaslan

    The tip about mega menu is my favourite. Consumer Digest example is great! :)

  • Puya

    Great article. I like the call to action (which shouldn’t be last) idea in the global navigation. However, I am not sure about not having your blog in the main menu. It depends what the site is all about. If you sell a service/product it might be a good idea. It might not be a good idea if your an information source.

    • Thank you! …and your right. It does depend on the site.

  • Have to disagree about the home button. I personally am not a fan of it, but during user testing we found that less tech-savvy users became confused when we took it out. We have added it back in to our main nav, and it is the most clicked navigational item on our site.

    • Hi Takeshi,

      Ya, I read some data on that as well. Your data sounds interesting. I mentioned that it’s making a comeback. However, I’m not sold just yet.

      You should right an article about it and share it with me :)

  • Flo

    Hello nice article but I do think home and blog are important in the home menu


      You could be right :)

  • What about the use of Menu in the site? As we heard that it’s impact if it’s developed by javascript, also what are other options to create SEO friendly Menu? Here is an example of dynamic cascading menu – http://www.kaushalam.com/dynamic-cascading-menu.html


      Thanks for the comment. No t sure I understand the question.

    • Kim Ling

      You don’t understand the question because the comment is spam with a link to a site looking for referral compensation. Marvin, kick that spammy link out of your comments.

  • Really good advice and a great list to follow.


      Glad you enjoyed!

    • neiljohnson456

      Yes I agreed with you this is a great list thanks.

  • Vichea Cheth

    I found this article very useful. Thanks for this.

  • Ryan

    A question…We have a website that is doing well, and we have a massive menu system with around 130 links in the menu itself. Perhaps we were given bad advice, as we thought this would be extremely helpful in terms of “internal linking”. How do you think taking steps to “simplify” our menu structure would affect our google rankings? Especially if we are removing many internal links for the sake of simplicity?

    • That is way too many links :) You complicating the experience for your users. I would meet with a professional agency and focus on strategy for user experience, not search engines.Otherwise, your bounce rate will be high, engagement low, length of time on site low….causing google to rank you lower.

  • Another great article with practical info & examples! I’ll admit I’m guilty of some of these. :)

    I just landed on your blog today Marvin and I’ve read about 4/5 of your posts in 30 mins. already.

    Good stuff … Thanks!

  • Thanks for pointing out the ‘too clever’ part of a nav menu. I just updated mine. :)

  • Praful Mistry

    It’s Good post and most of followed website standard my Favorite is Call to Action and Social media.

  • But i think Marvin this will not affect seo. because this is related to users who are coming to websites. obviously we should work for users to make sense, so thanks for this article

    I will keep reading your articles so keep posting


    • Kim Ling

      It will affect SEO. The main nav menu plays a factor in bounce rate, time on page, and keywords in URLs. All those things play a factor in search engine page rankings.

  • Kim Ling

    A year old and still the best article on nav menu advice. Bravo. What’s your opinion on using tool tips for menu items?

  • Eric Vasquez Santana

    The call to action button must be a text link??

    • Either a text link or preferably a big button.

    • Antonio Alaniz

      Eric, the thought is that if there is a CTA then the user should not have to scan the page to perform it.

  • Florence Bell

    best article keep posting

  • Florence Bell
  • Great post, thank you for sharing.


  • The best post post about SEO. Thanks a lot!

  • don’t know how i get here – but i think i stay and read a bit…

  • uralia

    Thanks, @russellbmw:disqus truely i was in confusion to make my new web site about menu bar. now it took a decision after reading your this article . :)

  • miro lucin

    Just what I was looking for! find it on google and have red half of your blog in 1h.Thank you very much, clean and simple!

    I am in process of wire-framing my very first web site for developer.

    Consider that I sell local service(transportation) based on airport, just to foreign citizens (UK, Germany,Norway,Sweden and USA mainly) problem for now is finding keywords or phrases used on google in their countries so I can be smarter while writing textual part. Problem is that here we use lot of Transfer… something phrases for transportation of people and to all my foreign friends that is just local expression for moving people, they connect that expression with money transfers or something… To whom I have to speak about expressions beside word taxi when trying to find airport transport in foreign country?Thank you in advance.

  • Daniel Latrimurti

    Martin….nice article. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  • Daniel Latrimurti

    Sorry, I mean Marvin. My apologies.

  • Daniel Latrimurti

    Marvin can you recommend (if such a thing exists) a WordPress plug in that will convert fly out menus to mega menus? Thank you Marvin.

    • I wish I knew my friend. Sorry. That’s a great idea.

  • Daniel Latrimurti

    Marvin, here’s one that has gotten a lot of good reviews on WordPress.Org. https://wordpress.org/plugins/megamenu/

  • Neo Backlinks

    A very informative to read on. Thanks for sharing this information

  • hi. its very good. Thank you so much.

  • Goddess Flight

    Is this article content still correct in 2016? Are mega menus better than no menus at all? If I want to increase a page’s traffic, can I add it to the main navigation menu to make this happen?

  • Mike Smith

    Very helpful article, all true except for No 7! Taking off the home from a website would definitely confuse a lot of people. So many people have seen “home” on the menu of websites so inherently they would look for Home. I do not agree to just pin the Logo to Home, instead I would (and this is only in the case of hand coded website) add Title tag to “home” on the menu to describe what the tab is all about. This will add to the accessibility. There are different ways people can navigate a menu, and it all comes down to your audience. For elderly people and those who are non savvy computer users, keeping Home on the menu is a brilliant option. “www.Simplitseo.us”

    • Antonio Alaniz

      While I get your meaning, designing for the elderly makes little sense and lets face it, most of the people in their 70’s navigating websites started back in their 50’s so they have maintained an athletically learning brain. Dump the home button, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, all have, and they spent millions on researching UX.

      • Mike Smith

        The websites you are mentioning are well known and popular, and they have different UI. The user experience and their converting option are also different
        Amazon for example is based on the search, so it does not need a home button, Apple still uses Home, but its featured as an apple! But lets say you have just started your website and still need to brand your business, it is better to have Home on your menu.

    • SunShine

      I’m 64; bought my first computer ($25K) at 30; used my first computer at 25; started coding before there were windows icons; am accredited in PR; have owned 3 biz; am female and know tons of us so-called elderly (hate that word, really hate it) who help younger people with computer issues. There was a world before you. :-) I could care less about “home” as visiting a site is about looking for the answer to “how to” or similar question. Where home is located is of no importance to me as a user. Give me search with damn good relevant search results.

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  • Howard Milstein

    So then: categories and subcategories should presumably be on the side bar?? ( e.g. Essays ( blog) , reviews , what’s new? Etc. )

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  • Antonio Alaniz

    Great stuff Marvin Russel.