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How to Add Menu Descriptions in Your WordPress Themes

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How to Add Menu Descriptions in Your WordPress Themes

WordPress menu system has a built-in feature where you can add descriptions with menu items. However, this feature is hidden by default. Even when enabled, displaying them is not supported without adding some code. Most themes are not designed with menu-item descriptions in mind. In this article we will show you how to enable menu descriptions in WordPress and how to add menu descriptions in your WordPress themes.

Note: This tutorial requires you to have fair understanding of HTML, CSS, and WordPress theme development.

Before that, lets first talk a bit about why you would want to add menu descriptions? Well some people think that it will help with the SEO. But we think that the main reason why you would want to use them is to offer a better user experience on your site. Descriptions can be used to tell visitors what they will find if they clicked on a menu item. An intriguing description will attract more users to click on menus.

Menu Descriptions

Step 1: Turn on Menu Descriptions

Go to Appearance » Menus. Click on Screen Options button at top right corner of the page. Check the Descriptions box.

Enabling Menu Descriptions

This will enable descriptions field in your menu items. Like this:

Description field added to menu items

Now you can add menu descriptions to items in your WordPress menu. However, these descriptions will not yet appear in your themes. To display menu descriptions we will have to add some code.

Step 2: Add the walker class:

Walker class extends the existing class in WordPress. It basically just adds a line of code to display menu item descriptions. Add this code in your theme’s functions.php file.

class Menu_With_Description extends Walker_Nav_Menu {
	function start_el(&$output, $item, $depth, $args) {
		global $wp_query;
		$indent = ( $depth ) ? str_repeat( "\t", $depth ) : '';
		
		$class_names = $value = '';

		$classes = empty( $item->classes ) ? array() : (array) $item->classes;

		$class_names = join( ' ', apply_filters( 'nav_menu_css_class', array_filter( $classes ), $item ) );
		$class_names = ' class="' . esc_attr( $class_names ) . '"';

		$output .= $indent . '<li id="menu-item-'. $item->ID . '"' . $value . $class_names .'>';

		$attributes = ! empty( $item->attr_title ) ? ' title="' . esc_attr( $item->attr_title ) .'"' : '';
		$attributes .= ! empty( $item->target ) ? ' target="' . esc_attr( $item->target ) .'"' : '';
		$attributes .= ! empty( $item->xfn ) ? ' rel="' . esc_attr( $item->xfn ) .'"' : '';
		$attributes .= ! empty( $item->url ) ? ' href="' . esc_attr( $item->url ) .'"' : '';

		$item_output = $args->before;
		$item_output .= '<a'. $attributes .'>';
		$item_output .= $args->link_before . apply_filters( 'the_title', $item->title, $item->ID ) . $args->link_after;
		$item_output .= '<br /><span class="sub">' . $item->description . '</span>';
		$item_output .= '</a>';
		$item_output .= $args->after;

		$output .= apply_filters( 'walker_nav_menu_start_el', $item_output, $item, $depth, $args );
	}
}

Step 3. Enable Walker in wp_nav_menu

WordPress themes use wp_nav_menu() function to display menus. We have also published a tutorial for beginners about how to add custom navigation menus in WordPress Themes. Most WordPress themes add menus in header.php template. However, it is possible that your theme may have used some other template file to display menus.

What we need to do now is find wp_nav_menu() function in your theme (most likely in header.php) and change it like this.


<?php $walker = new Menu_With_Description; ?>

<?php wp_nav_menu( array( 'theme_location' => 'primary', 'menu_class' => 'nav-menu', 'walker' => $walker ) ); ?>

In the first line we set $walker to use walker class we defined earlier in functions.php. In the second line of code, the only extra argument we need to add to our existing wp_nav_menu arguments is 'walker' => $walker.

Step 4. Styling the Descriptions

The walker class we added earlier displays item descriptions at this line of code:

$item_output .= '<br /><span class="sub">' . $item->description . '</span>';

The above code adds a line break to the menu item by adding a
tag and then wraps your descriptions in a span with class sub. Like this:

<li id="menu-item-99" class="menu-item menu-item-type-post_type menu-item-object-page"><a href="http://www.example.com/about/">About<br /><span class="sub">Who are we?</span></a></li>

To change how your descriptions appear on your site, you can add CSS in your theme’s stylesheet. We were testing this on Twenty Twelve and used this css.

.menu-item {
border-left: 1px solid #ccc;
}

span.sub { 
font-style:italic;
font-size:small;
}

We hope that you will find this article useful and it will help you create cool looking menus with menu descriptions in your theme. Questions? Leave them in comments below.

Additional Resources

How to Style WordPress Navigation Menus

How to Add Custom Items to Specific WordPress Menus

Bill Erickson’s Menus with Description Class


Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress lovers led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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  • Chad

    Hey man, I added the walker class to functions.php, but I cannot find the wp_nav_menu in genesis theme. What am I missing? I have no idea what to do next?!?!

  • Ksenia

    You expain very well – detailed and clearly. 1 minute and menu items descriptions are ok. Thank you!

  • Mary Anne

    Thank you so much for this tutorial. It was recommended to me and it worked perfectly for making the changes I wanted to make. However, in making these changes, I’ve lost my drop down sub-item menus. Any idea what affected that in the code change?

    Thank you for your time and tutorial

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      It seems like a CSS issue, we are sorry we couldn’t be more specific. Try using Google Chrome’s developer tools to debug it.

  • Paul Renault

    I have implemented the menu descriptions and it worked great. Now my client is asking for a line break within one of the descriptions. I have tried putting a carriage return and inserting a tag into the description field through the admin. It doesn’t appear in the front end. WP removes these edits. Is there a way to remedy this?

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Support

      If your client just wants spacing then you can use CSS for that.

      • Paul Renault

        The client wants a line break. Is there a way that I can insert a tag in the description? If I put one in now it gets removed.

  • Barry

    Great tutorial guys, just want to know how to implement this on a custom menu displayed using the Custom Menu widget?

  • Oryan Consulting

    Thank you! Been working on WordPress for years and I’ve never even heard of this before. I was looking to remove the descriptions as they were very redundant on the site I’m working on. I looked everywhere for where they were coming from.

    Oh joy!

  • sambassador

    works!

    but for php 5.4 you’ll have to match the wp walker arguments for the start_el function:

    function start_el( &$output, $object, $depth = 0, $args = array(), $current_object_id = 0 )

    and find replace $item with $object.

  • Steve Covello

    You Rock!! Worked perfectly.

  • Kevin Gilbert

    Perfect. This was just what I needed to finish up on a site. I had some issues with the CSS, but I finally figured it out and got it working. Thanks for the great articles.

  • Jon

    Excellent tip. Worked perfectly!

  • Jedediah White

    This worked perfectly for me. The class function is perfect too. Thanks a lot!

  • Pankaj

    I needed to create same thing and I was totally lost.

    I was planning to do some stupid things to get this thing done.

    thank god I found this post and saved time and stress!

    I simply love this site got to know so much things.

    Thanks you so much for showing the easiest things here.

    • Pankaj

      The span tag is coming on sub-menus too.

      its not showing there but it is taking that much of space which makes it look too odd.

      is there any workaround for the same??

  • DiTesco

    This is really a great tutorial and I was wondering if this would work on the Thesis 1.8.5? If not, it would be great if you can provide one. I will most certainly help you put it out there. Thumbs up!

  • svet

    I followed your tutorial and added description to my menu. Thanks! However, when I am in mobile mode menu converts into dropdown menu and menu title and description are connected. For example, if my menu item is “about” and description “more about me”, the mobile version shows “aboutmore about me”. Is there a way to fix this?

    • David

      I had the same problem. Here’s what I did.

      I changed this:
      $description = ! empty( $item->description ) ? ‘<span>’.esc_attr( $item->description ).’</span>’ : ”;

      To this:
      $description = ! empty( $item->description ) ? ‘<br /><span>’.esc_attr( $item->description ).’</span>’ : ”;

      Not sure if it’s the best solution, but it worked for me.

      • Garrett Hyder

        Thanks guys, I ran into what SVET and DAVID did with the mobile menu.
        The code seems to have changed my change was simply appending in a span with the dash seperator and in my desktop query simply suppressed it as was unneeded there.

        $item_output .= ‘ - ‘;

        Within my Desktop Only Query set the span to display none;
        @media only screen and (min-width: 740px) {
        header #submenu li span.dash { display:none; }

        Hope that helps, handled my issue nicely.

  • Nicola

    Great post – very clear, exactly what I needed and worked perfectly. Thank you!

  • Samedi Amba

    Thanks for the Great Tutorial. I’ve done the major steps well, as you can see from
    http://ueab.ac.ke/demo/index

    I was stuck with the styling-how do I reduce the space between the Main Menu Label and the description? Your help is greatly appreciated.

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com Editorial Staff

      It has to do with the line-height of your .menu a class of your theme. If you reduce that, then the spacing will reduce itself.

  • Chris Rouse

    Great post. I’ve tried to dig into this before but the previous instructions I found were not this easy to follow. I was able to drop the functions.php code in, figure out how to change the walker class in my header file (different for the theme I use, but straight forward), and get things going in about 15 minutes from start to finish.

    One piece that you might want to add is how to include the right border on the last menu item using the :last-child property.


    .menu-item:last-child {
    border-right: 1px solid #ccc;
    }

  • Damien Carbery

    Instead of extending Walker_Nav_Menu it would be nice (and easier) if a filter was provided e.g.
    If the core code had:
    $item_output .= apply_filters( ‘walker_nav_menu_description’, $item->description);

    Then the custom filter function would just have:
    return ” . $description . ”;

  • Cathy Earle

    Great info … going to start adding this to my sites. Thank you!