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Does Google Dislike DHTML Drop-Down Menus?

 11:08 pm on Jan 11, 2013 (gmt 0)

A few years ago I introduced drop-down navigation on some of my sites. I wanted to move away from long columns of navigation links down the left side of my pages.

The drop downs were created using a DHTML software package that creates the code, compresses it into javascript files (one for IE, one for non-IE) which are then called by another javascript file in a single line of code in the page html. eg.

<script language="javascript" type="text/javascript" src="scripts/dmblc.js"></script>

It has just dawned on me that all of my sites that have never performed well, or were hit by Penguin on April 24th last, have this drop down DHTML menu arrangement. Several other smaller sites with conventional html link navigation seem to performing much the same as they always have.

The numbers involved are waaaayy too small to claim there is a pattern here.... but I'd be very interested if anyone else has some experience/observations they would like to share.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 6:40 am (utc) on Jan 12, 2013]


Robert Charlton

 7:41 am on Jan 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

Several possible things wrong here... either crawling problems or SEO problems (which drop-down menus tend to produce).

First, re crawlability... "DHTML" can be a very vague specification. Since you mention that javascript is involved, it's possible that Googlebot can't crawl these menus. Check to see if you have href links in your navigation code, as these would pass link juice. Otherwise, look further in your code to see if you have alternative links for spiders in a <noscript> section.

I'm not a fan of drop down menus even if they are crawlable, though. Drop downs make it too easy to put almost global site maps on all your pages, thus presenting too many choices, both to Google and to users.

This is a usability problem that I believe Google also sees as a search problem. The large number of nav links in drop downs completely fuzzes any hierarchical navigation structure, and the excessive number of links makes a strategic distribution of link juice almost impossible.

If the "long columns of navigation links down the left side of [your] pages" were really very long, though, you might have had too many links anyway. Most sites I audit or review have way too many links from home. Drop down menus are one of the big contributors to this problem.

I should add that the number of nav links you can use on home varies according to the authority of the site... and the kind of linking that can be done on Amazon (or on many large sites), eg, can't be done on smaller sites with weaker inbound linking.

On the other hand, on a small enough site, you can probably get away with a global nav structure reasonably well, so many sites that use drop down menus don't appear to have any problems.

On the usability issues of drop downs, see this classic thread by tedster from back in 2004...

Mouseover Menus - or DHTML indigestion
http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum21/7279.htm [webmasterworld.com]


 12:27 pm on Jan 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

I agree with Robert, but there are sites in the same niche all using drop down menus with lots of internal links. The drop down menus are part of the navigation and are sitewide. I see these sites ranking without problems, even if there are more than 200 internal links on that page. Javascript is not used in populating the menus, just the standard <select><option> way. If Google can't see your links, put the linked pages in the xml sitemap of your site or link them from another pages. Again, i think it depends on the niche. Check your competitors websites ranking well and try to have a similar way of navigation.


 5:14 pm on Jan 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm not a fan of drop down menus...

Tried to, but just can't resist a blast from the past:

Mouseover Menus - or DHTML indigestion [webmasterworld.com]

Robert Charlton

 1:27 am on Jan 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Tried to, but just can't resist a blast from the past:

jimbeetle - Please check my post again and read all the way down. ;)

(Either that, or you may have a bad short term memory problem.)

Yes, the Mouseover Menus thread... and another MM topic... tedster's Mega Menu discussion from 2008...

The "Mega Menu" Problem and Google Rankings
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/3687528.htm [webmasterworld.com]


 2:16 am on Jan 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Are you two really fighting over which which Tedster Post says, 'No! Don't do it, PEASE?!' the best in this specific situation? Just answer the poor person's question lol.

Watch how easy this is ... I'm not even gonna link a Tedster Thread ;)

There's usually better ways than using drop-downs austtr, so I'd personally forget about Google on this one and think about moving away from them just for visitor convenience ... I actually can't stand the things, even when major sites do it and I think you have a better chance of 'getting someone into your site' by letting them look a bit when you don't use them, but when you do use them, it seems like you increase the chances of them 'getting frustrated and clicking back' when they don't mouse 'just right' and the menu closes a couple times in a row on them or they don't find what they're looking for in the menu it seems like it should be in.

There's even Major Brands site's I've just left because their stupid menu closes on me, even though I was interested in what they had and they're really the only ones who have it ... I didn't need it bad enough to fight with their site so I could buy it though lol


 5:46 pm on Jan 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Either that, or you may have a bad short term memory problem.

It is. I saw your link but it didn't register. A Duh! moment.


 6:04 pm on Jan 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

Since the OP, I've put the site through a Googlebot search simulator and while I have not had time to fully review the results, a quick look seems to indicate problems. I'm pretty sure some (possibly a lot) of nav links are not being seen.

I'm guessing the issues that SE's have with .js files might be the core issue.

The sites in question are destination guides that have wide ranging content. Country, states/provinces, regions, major cities, attractions and activities plus a raft of resources such as accommodation options, tours, rentals, insurance etc etc. The intent of drop-down nav in sites like this is to allow the viewer to go direct to their pages of interest instead of having to drill down page by page.

So much for good intentions.....


 2:51 pm on Jan 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

Think Cutts was asked about js menus at one point...he seemed to indicate you're fine as long as you stick to popular menu scripts but there can be problems if you use more obscure ones.

What I interpret from this...is that google handles ul/ol menus with anchors in them just fine (this is the bread and butter js menu). The JS/Jquery & CSS in most cases just rearranges the ul/ol into a the menu you want.

If the js does not reformat a ul/ol (think this is your case) then I think that is where you can get into trouble.


 4:55 pm on Jan 15, 2013 (gmt 0)

I love the look of drop downs, but in addition to what Robert mentions, there are two more reasons I'm in the process of dumping them completely:

I was recently redesigning a corporate website with a responsive design, and when they saw how much scrolling the drop down menu caused on smartphones, they wanted me to find another way. We went with a horizontal menu of the top hierarchy on every page, and when you click one of those pages, there's a sub menu on it with more options (the former drop down items). We styled the sub menus as links so smart phone users can just click 'em. It's actually pretty elegant and avoided the whole issue of navigational links in the sidebars. I suspect it may also distribute pagerank in a better way, since the sub-menu links are so tightly connected to the pages on which they appear.

Drop downs can also be really tough from an accessibility standpoint. If your hands shake, or you have trouble using a mouse, it can be very hard to get your cursor onto the menu item you want. I've known people who just won't stay on sites that have drop downs for this reason, and I can't blame them.

One last note: I also agree with Robert that many sites have too many navigational links. The corporate site was definitely an example of this, so we used a number of strategies to whittle it down.

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