You’ve seen them all over the internet, mega menus have been sneaking under your cursor since the early 2000s to deliver you every possible link on a website you could possibly want – whether you like it or not. To be clear, I’m not totally against mega menus. They have their place when used in a smart, practical way that achieves a user’s (and business’) goal. To help add clarity to this topic I’m going to explain exactly what I mean when I talk about “mega menus.”
What is a “Mega Menu”?
A mega menu is typically defined as a drop down interface that is triggered by the user hovering over a link or defined area. This dropdown usually shows all options in one main, mega-panel and oftentimes groups related topics into categories. Also, “deep footers” containing excessive, if not every, navigation link are also considered mega menus even though they do not employ dropdown functionality.
In the example of the REI website, a prominent seller of outdoor gear and apparel, they have effectively implemented a mega menu to the benefit of their users and search engines. Here’s why:
The mega menu options break apart their vast retail product offerings into highly relevant and complimentary keyword groupings. This serves a dual purpose of easily allowing the user to navigate past large amounts of content they are not interested in in order to get to the page or pages they are actually looking for while their keyword groups build relevancy signals with the major search engines.
Remember – Google is attempting easily and accurately serve up the best content to the most relevant search query so the more your site is able to break apart content in clear content silos, the easier it is for the engines like Google to find, index and serve up your web pages in the SERPs. The mighty Bruce Clay has a great guide of what a content silo strategy looks like and how it’s done.
In order to properly execute a content silo strategy you will need the buy-in and help from a variety of resources like designers, UX professionals and developers unless of course you wear all of these hats. This is where your SEO keyword research and competitive analysis documentation all come together to inform the creation of the website’s information architecture (IA).
To Mega Menu or Not to Mega Menu?
Your site might be best served with a mega menu if:
Your site manages a large number of products (big ecommerce)
You publish and manage a vast amount of content (news sites, content aggregators)
You have complex service offerings requiring a lot of supporting content (large association sites)
Similar to the point above: your site is primarily information-oriented, diverse, with a lot of long-form web copy
Your site might not need/should not use a mega menu if:
Your site is a small, “brochure-style” site without much content (many small businesses, restaurants)
Author/personal website light on content diversity and total number of pages
Similar to above: Blogs with singular focus, not a ton of content
Singular function websites: Tools/calculators, etc., light on web copy and number of pages
Earlier this year r2i built a website for Patton Boggs, an international litigation and consulting firm, where a mega menu was implemented. This navigation is a good fit for this client due to their total number of potential landing pages and the complexity of their subject matter. In this case, the user is aided in their journey by the fact that all possible menu options in the “Experience” area are made available. This navigation reduces the total number of clicks it takes the user to find the content relevant to their interest. All links in the mega menu contain clear anchor text echoing the keyword targeting of the destination page. For the user, this means helpful reinforcement of expectations that the content of the destination page matches their interest. For SEO, the use of keyword-rich anchor text is another relevancy signal for search engines to identify landing page content and associate it with the larger keyword groups.
Mega Menus & SEO: What About My Link Juice?
SEOs have a lot of questions and concerns when it comes to the effect of mega menus on SEO performance. One big question is, “What about my link juice?”
The concern is that too many navigation links contained in a mega menu will dilute the overall page rank of a site. To explain further, Google assigns a PageRank score based on the number and quality of links pointing to a webpage. A site’s internal link structure transfers PageRank throughout the site. Distributing a site’s PageRank in a “broad” way, which is the case with sites using mega menus, dilutes the page’s ability to rank competitively in the SERPs.
This is a fair criticism of mega menus and a valid concern when implementing a mega menu on any website. Mega menus are not without their drawbacks. The increased ability to navigate a site will come at a tradeoff on the SEO front. Some sites with weaker trust and authority metrics will likely feel this hit more than established sites with strong authority and trust metrics. Personally I would always shoot for fewer than 100 links on a page but there are certainly instances where increased navigation options might be more desirable than any negative SEO implications and whatever SEO hit the site takes is worth it.
Considerations on SEO & Mega Menus
PageRank is not the only ranking factor important to Google; it’s one of many factors in Google’s complex algorithm. For this reason I’ve softened my approach towards mega menus over time. There is some speculation that PageRank could be phased out as a ranking factor evidenced by Google not updating browser display tools reporting PageRank values.
While mega menus are not the wrong fit for every site every time, SEOs, designers and user experience professionals need to bring their heads together early in the process to identify the website’s goals (conversions, revenue or otherwise) and map out which pages lead to completing those goals. Identify “buckets” of pages that fit into a cohesive theme (SEOs: reference your keyword map) and from here identify which page the user needs to hit for the desired action to be completed. Do the hard work and engage in conversations across disciplines (SEO, design, UX) to come up with the best approach for your next site build.