Customizing WordPress Menus

Over the past few days I’ve had a few people ask me some specific questions on customizing menus. Since none of them are long enough to justify a full post, I thought I’d make one post with all the tips.

Using Menu Descriptions

The menu and descriptions are powered by a WordPress Menu

From the Menus screen, click on Screen Options in the top right and check “Description”. You can now write a description for any of your links. Unfortunately these descriptions can’t be displayed without writing some custom code. We’ll need to create what’s called a walker class.

Place this in your functions.php file:

We’re basically creating the markup for the menu. The key here is the line with this: $item->description

That adds the description to the link, wrapped in a .sub class.

Now all you’ll need to do is include the walker in your wp_nav_menu() arguments.

Showing certain pages to logged in users

One of the most powerful features of WordPress menus is Classes. From the Appearance > Menus screen, click Screen Options in the top right corner and check Classes. You’ll now be able to add custom classes to any menu item.

For this specific technique, add the class “logged-in-nav” to the menu items you want visible only to logged in users. Then, add the following CSS to your stylesheet.

In Genesis (and probably other themes), when a user is logged in it adds the body class “logged-in”. If your theme doesn’t have this already, you can use the body class filter to add it.

Adding Extra Code to the Menu

As described at the end of my last post on Theme Settings, there are some useful filters for modifying the output of menus.

There’s two filters that you can use, depending on how much you know about the menu.

wp_nav_menu_items – runs on all menus
wp_nav_menu_{menu-name}_items – only runs on that specific menu (ex: wp_nav_menu_primary_items if the menu is named Primary).

There are two parameters for each filter, $menu and $args. The $menu object contains the actual menu. If you need to modify the actual content of the menu, you’ll need to modify this object (ex: using preg_replace to add or change classes on certain menu items). A lot of times I won’t need to modify the actual content, I’ll just want to stick something on the end. In that case I’ll do something like this:

That will add extra code to the end of the menu (I’m returning the original menu intact, as well as my addition, $extras.

The other parameter, $args, contains information about the menu. For instance, let’s say we want to add something to the end of the Secondary menu in Genesis. Since we’re using a theme location, the menu could have any name (so we can’t use the second filter). We’ll use the first and use the $args to figure out if we’re on the secondary menu.

Bill Erickson

Bill Erickson is a freelance WordPress developer and a contributing developer to the Genesis framework. For the past 14 years he has worked with attorneys, publishers, corporations, and non-profits, building custom websites tailored to their needs and goals.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Bruce Munson says

    Hi Bill,
    Great tip. I think there is a typo on line 2?
    Should be:
    function be_menu_extras($menu, $args) {

    • Bill Erickson says

      Good catch. I created this by combining code from a lot of projects and tried renaming all of the functions to use the same name, but this one slipped through. I’ve updated the code.

  2. Jamie says

    Thanks for the tuts! Regarding “Adding Extra Code to the Menu”, I’m trying to do this but I want to add a second wrapper. Any ideas?

    /*WordPress generates this code*/

    /* I want this code generated. I want to add the .nav-holder wrapper */

    Do I have to use a nav walker for this or can I use a filter?

    Thanks in advance:)

  3. Dave says

    Thanks for the info on the classes and menu items, I had never thought of that, but was always plagued with how to only show menu items to logged in users.

    Only one small change, don’t use the default menu #nav, as I’ve created a custom menu, maybe highlight that whatever name you give the menu under the menu name (I called mine MainMenu), then simply substitute the #nav -> #menu-MainMenu

    It did only take me a few minutes to find the problem, but I think if I used the default menu structure, then this would have worked. Anyway, great piece of code, simple, and (if you don’t mind) I’m going to create a post about this and link back to you.


  4. Campbell says

    Hey Bill,

    Is there a way to implement this into Genesis so that I can display the Description (Subtitle) In my Sub Nav Categories?

  5. Campbell McArthur says

    @John Russel

    Actually, you are correct! I removed the background-color: #292929; and it has corrected my problem!

    Thank you so much John!


  6. Tom says

    Hi Bill I was wondering if this could be changed a bit to prevent some menu items from being seen by logged in users. I would like the logged in user to only see the new menu items and not the regular menu items that the public sees.


  7. Frank Sposaro says

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your post. I’ve played around with a plugin that is suppose to do the same CSS try for hiding menu options. I updated my styles.CSS file for the active theme and changed the the CSS to logged-in-nav for the item that I wanted to hide in my bar. However, I have be unable to get this working. This is a custom menu that I created and I’m using the Nova Theme. Do you think it could be a problem with my theme or something? We would surely appreciate your advise.


    • Bill Erickson says

      View the source of your page and make sure the body classes and menu classes are showing up. Use a tool like Inspector for Chrome or Firebug for Firefox to see what’s going on with the CSS.

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