The appearance of a website matters, greatly.

During the first milliseconds of viewing a site, if the logo, fonts, colours or imagery make my eyes bleed — I won’t proceed to the content. For myself and other professionals, design equals credibility.

While a custom theme will provide a huge head start towards creating a beautifully designed website, there are still potential poor design choices that can be made on the path to completion. Here are a few tips for staying on the path to creating a beautiful WordPress site.

1. Great Images

Images will make or break the appearance of your site. Poor image choice is the most common mistake I encounter in new websites. If you plan to use images, don’t cheap out — it will reflect poorly on your brand.

Good images are going to cost you a few bucks. Great images are going to cost you more than a few bucks. If you don’t have the budget for quality photography, there are a few options for finding good free imagery.

  • — Good, affordable images. They also offer one free image per week.
  • — Similar to iStock in terms of pricing and quality.
  • — Similar to iStock in terms of pricing, maybe slightly higher quality. They also have great artwork and fonts available.
  • — Cream of the crop editorial images. They are fantastic. They are not cheap.

Free Photo Resources

  • Unsplash – Free high quality photography, our personal favorite.
  • Use Instagram — A great way to get your own good looking images for free.
  • Flickr Creative Commons — You can find great images here. The usage conditions vary, but you generally need to give credit to the photographer.
  • stock.xchng — An excellent free resource. You may have to do some digging on the site for quality images.
  • Wikipedia Commons — You’re free to use any images or media on Wikipedia.
  • Ask permission — It doesn’t hurt to ask your favorite photographers. You’ll have more luck with this if you provide credit and have site traffic.

2. Font Choices

Making great font choices is very important to the design, professionalism and above all else, the legibility of your site. If you want people to read your content — make it easy for them.

When in doubt, use Helvetica, Arial or Georgia. They are widely recognized as legible fonts online that have stood the test of time. If you’re not a professional designer, and a font looks “boring“, that’s probably the easiest way to recognize it as being a good font.

Seen a great font, but don’t know what it is? Try WhatTheFont from MyFonts.

Using fonts on the web isn’t like choosing a font in Microsoft Word. By default, there are only a handful of core fonts that can be viewed universally on the web. This problem has haunted web typography for years. Very difficult workarounds evolved using images, Flash or Cufon. It wasn’t until relatively recently that great solutions began to emerge.

Web Font Solutions

  • Google Fonts — Free and good, most of them anyway.
  • Typekit — Basically a premium version of Google Fonts, offering high quality fonts on your site for a price.
  • Fontdeck — Similar to Typekit, but with different pricing options.

Font Sources

  • — If you’re looking for a specific font, you can probably find it here.
  • exljbris Font Foundry — They have a collection of free quality fonts.
  • — Veer offers some great fonts for design.
  • — A huge collection of free fonts. Use carefully, because most of them are pretty horrid.

WordPress Font Plugins

3. Colors

Unless you are well versed in colour theory, getting too creative with the colour scheme on your site may be a disaster. It might look like a chimpanzee finger painting.

If a colour isn’t your cup of tea, a great rule of thumb is to use 2 neutral, contrasting colours (preferably shades of black and white) with the sparse use of 1 highlight colour throughout your site.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, try implementing a palette from ColourLovers. Remember to make wise colour choices that match your brand.

We create our themes to provide basic colour changing options for the links, buttons, highlights and background. We have tried to keep the options minimal to reduce the risk of a colour disaster.

A logo is more than just an icon at the top of your site — it’s the face of your company. There is a reason why companies like Citibank pay millions of dollars for a logo re-branding from Pentagram. Those companies understand the value of a logo, and the importance of their brand.

You don’t need a million dollars for a great logo, but you do need more than $20, depending on the designer. The price will likely increase considerably based on the number of concepts and revisions desired.

Logopond is a great resource for finding excellent and affordable logo designers.

If you can’t afford a logo designer, there’s always Helvetica. Use a great typeface, purchase an icon from iStockPhoto for $20, or even use your signature if it’s a personal site or brand. Keep it as simple as possible if you absolutely have to create your own logo without experience.

Just please don’t ask your secretary or nephew to design a logo if you value the appearance of your site. It won’t be pretty.

5. Avoid Clutter

More is not always more. When a site contains too much clutter — the focus of the content is lost.

By clutter, I’m referring to:

  • Excessive Advertising
  • Pop-Up Newsletter Forms
  • Absurd Amounts of Social Media Buttons
  • Unexpected Animations
  • Auto-playing Music or Video
  • Any Other Annoying Distractions

While advertising might be a necessity for creating a profitable site, filling it with Google AdSense on every post and sidebar is not going to result in more money. Place ads wisely, and only if your site is generating enough traffic to warrant the use of advertisements. If you’re just getting started, the focus should be on the content. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, even on the web.

A beautiful site is peaceful, not a bombardment of all senses.

Remember, anything that distracts the viewer from the content is bad. If you don’t need it, don’t use it.

Following these tips will result in a stronger brand and more interest in your site. The appearance of a professional brand is essential to any business, and we want your business to look great.