Traditional or Burger Menu: Quick Answer Section
Is traditional or burger menu best for desktop?
Traditional menus are designed for desktop. Burger menus are designed for mobile. The short answer will therefore be: traditional. However, this isn’t always the case, as it depends on your particular needs and goals.
How popular is the use of burger menus on desktop sites?
Not at all. Even though there aren’t any studies on the topic, your own search history might help you answer this question. How often have you seen burger menus on desktop? Not often, right?
Are there technical reasons to not use burger menu on desktop?
From a technical perspective, it’s fine to use burger menus on desktop.
How does burger menus on desktop affect user experience?
Burger menus on desktop sites are not considered user friendly. Their use is therefore only recommended in specific cases, where a website has a narrowly specified purpose.
My theme allows me to only use traditional or burger menu, no responsive switches between them. Is it then wiser to use burger menu on desktop?
This depends on the size of your menu and the type of traffic you get. If most of your users come from mobile and tablet, then it is wiser to use the burger menu option. The wisest will, though, be to switch to another theme. If the menu isn’t responsible, who knows what else isn’t responsible?
Is it okay to use traditional menu on mobile?
Short answer: no. Just as with the use of burger menu on desktop, using traditional menus on mobile isn’t the standard anymore. Thus, you’d present site visitors with a challenge. Besides, long menus will destroy the mobile layout.
In my work as a WordPress designer, I meet customers that want to have traditional menus on desktop sites and others that wish to get the burger menu, known from mobile devices. While it’s still very few, who prefer it, I can see a clear tendency that the burger menu is steadily gaining popularity.
The reasons are many: some expect the majority of their traffic to come from mobile devices, others aim at minimalistic website design with as few page elements as at all possible, while a small group of website owners have simply misunderstood the mobile-friendliness principles, making them believe that websites should be built for mobile devices, regardless what screen the they are being viewed on.
No matter which group you belong to, it is worth it to consider all pros and cons of traditional and burger menus on desktop sites before making a final decision to avoid unintended negative impact on user engagement and your business in general.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Menus
The traditional menu is the one we know from desktop sites, designed during the past 30+ years. They are as a rule placed at the top of the page, in the header. Most often, in line with the logo or right under it. Rarely, designers put menus above the logo, in the top bar, or vertically, to the side of the page.
The reason why most menus are found on the same spot on millions of websites is that users expect to find them there. Websites are indeed increasingly designed with site users in mind. This means that considerations as ease of use, consistency, predictability, and conversions are prioritized very high.
Pros of Traditional Menus
When talking about pros of traditional menus, the following is worth mentioning:
- Traditional menus are very user-friendly, as they are placed on a highly visible spot, look and work as expected.
- They are easily accessible and don’t require users to use an extra click each time they want to see the menu. Each additional click is considered problematic in terms of conversions.
- Traditional menus help create demand by prominently addressing site users’ undiscovered needs.
- They allow for different submenu structures, depending on the number of menu items that should be displayed, as well as the number of sublevels needed. Mega menus make it possible to quickly and easily get an overview of the site structure and find a page of interest, without the menu getting overcrowded (see example below).
- Traditional menus are – in most cases – responsive, meaning that they adjust to the screen they are viewed on. Menus on most premium WordPress themes adjust automatically to different screen sizes. In the same time, some themes offer an additional responsibility feature, making it possible to adjust font size, depending on the width of the screen, with a single click.
- Most traditional menus, found in premium WordPress themes, transform automatically into burger menus on mobile, making it unnecessary to worry about mobile-friendly menu layout.
- Menus can be styled. You can change the font, font size, color, even the position of the menu using CSS.
Cons of Traditional Menus
In fact, there are not really any downsides, besides that traditional menus mess with some designers’ minimalistic designs. Whether this can be called a downside though, I am not sure, as the most important rule in professional web design is: less intricate designs, more user-friendliness considerations.
Pros and Cons of Burger Menus
Burger menus aren’t meant as a design element on desktop sites. They are simply the developers’ answer to the challenge small screens present: no space for traditional menus. Burger menus are today the standard on mobile and often used on tablets (smaller models). Their application on desktop sites is, though, almost non-existent, primarily because of user-friendliness, conversion, and demand considerations. We’ll review them in the cons section below.
Even though it doesn’t seem that the burger menu will become a hit on desktop sites anytime soon, there are some designers and website owners that are quite excited about it. Here is why:
Pros of Burger Menus
- Burger menus allow you to implement minimalistic design or image-borne pages. Such pages can give site visitors very strong impression.
- Burger menus slide in only after clicking on them. This can make it easier to “guide” site visitors to conversion by taking away their motivation to explore the site on their own and guiding them alone via strong CTAs, placed strategically on each page. So, no matter which page the user is on, they don’t need to think or guess, where to go next. You take away their obvious choice and give them only the option to act as desired.
- Less space for menu means more space for content – you can use the space to place images, ads or text, making the most out of each page.
- Your site will be perceived as different, unique in a way. While this has its downsides, it guarantees that you’ll get site visitors’ attention.
- Burger menus can be styled – both the icon and the slide-in menu, making the look of your site truly unique.
- Even if using a theme with no menu responsibility options, your site’s header will look great – both on mobile and desktop.
Cons of Burger Menus
- User experience killer: The fact that users have to click one extra time each time they want to use the menu, may mean that they simply give up. Each additional click is an enemy to user experience and conversions.
- Burger menus don’t feature real mega menus, making navigation a bit heavy, especially if there are lots of options to choose among. You know what I am talking about, if you’ve browsed men’s shoes in an online store and then suddenly need to look at women’s bags, for example. While this can be done with a simple hover over a mega menu, in the burger menu, you’ll need to click a number of times on different categories until you navigate to your next destination.
- The hidden menu can result in users not discovering the right service, product or content for them. Not because they are more difficult to find when looking at the slide-in burger menu, just because not being able to look at the list of options at any time on any page results in people not realizing/forgetting what they need or whether you offer it.
- Making it difficult to see the overview of your site’s offering messes up with demand creation. It is well known that demand is created by literally telling consumers, what they need and why. Your menu can be one of the keys to demand creation. For example, if you have menu items called Remove acne, Keep dry, etc., you tell customers that it isn’t OK to have acne or be sweaty. If you have hidden these baits behind a burger menu, they’ll simply stop working.
- In a study by Catalyst from 2015, 34,8% of respondents did not understand what a hamburger menu on mobile was or how to use it. While these numbers (hopefully) look more optimistic today, there is still a great mental barrier, when it comes to users accepting burger menus on desktop. The reason is simply that they are not used to seeing burger menus on desktop sites. Making things difficult or unexpected in any way, as for example by hiding the menu away, you risk to lose a large portion of your traffic. Site users will indeed not use time on figuring out your site, they’ll just navigate away from it.
- Site navigation must be tailored according to user expectations, ease of use, and best practices. This requires using traditional menus on desktop sites (with very few exceptions, see the next section of this post).
- Given that most premium WordPress themes – and many free ones – feature burger menus on smaller screens, choosing a burger menu for the purposes of mobile friendliness is unnecessary. In the same time, it messes with user friendliness on desktop.
So – Traditional or Burger Menu?
As you might have noticed, there are no cons to using traditional menus on desktop, while there are quite a lot of cons to using burger menus. This speaks for itself. That being said, it’s important to note that each website and business case is unique and needs to be approached in a way, designed to boost conversions on that particular website.
Websites that might benefit of burger menus can for example be designer or art sites, portfolios, galleries, as well as sophisticated websites with strictly defined funnels and goals.
Websites that should keep away from burger menus are basically any business or content sites, as well as online shops. As they are dependent on their diverse target group’s demands, hiding options or trying to fit everybody through a narrow funnel would result in losing tremendously a lot of business.
If you are a blogger or a professional publisher, you are also advised to hold on to the traditional menu, helping site visitors easily discover your content. The rule is that site navigation must be easy, consistent, obvious, and as expected. Site users aren’t eager to stick around trying to figure things out, they’ll simply move to your competition, if you weren’t able to guide them to what they are looking for in a quick and efficient way.
Still in doubt? Present your case via mail and get an individual assessment. It’s free, of course.