4 Easy Ways Non-Coders Can Add Personality to a WordPress Theme

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It wasn’t easy, but you finally settled on a premium theme for your self-hosted WordPress website.

You bought it, installed it, and watched all of your content magically reorganize itself inside the pages and sidebars of your new site. Your content is served up with new fonts, colors, and beautiful white space. It looks great.

As a matter of fact, it looks just like the example theme that inspired you to choose it. Exactly like it.

At this point, it might dawn on you that your site now looks identical to hundreds of other websites out there. Oh sure, it’s gorgeous, but it’s not unique.

You might think you’re stuck with the style you’ve chosen and destined to have a site that’s identical to lots of others on the web.

The good news is that there are four easy ways to add personality to your premium theme site … and they don’t involve writing code or messing with your core theme files.

Making these changes will give your site just the right amount of visual style so that it stands out and is remembered.

1. Give custom fonts a try

There’s nothing like a new font to give your website an instant makeover. And these days you don’t even need to pay extra to get custom fonts served up on your website.

First, the back story: until recently, we were stuck using a dozen or so “web standard” fonts. All websites used these fonts, and we became collectively tired of seeing them.

About five years ago, font-serving technology become feasible. Third-party websites “serve up” custom fonts when requested from your website. This means your site visitors see custom fonts when they visit your site, even if they don’t have those fonts installed on their machines.

So it’s easy to add custom fonts to your site.

If you are using the Genesis Framework and don’t mind copy/pasting some lines of code, you can use the method outlined here by Brian Gardner: How to Use Google Web Fonts With Your Genesis-Powered Website.

If you’d rather avoid ever seeing a line of code, use the well-regarded WP Google Fonts plugin to add custom fonts to your site.

2. Use compelling images

High-quality premium themes put the emphasis on your content. They use well-crafted white space, visual hierarchy, and layout styles to shine a light on your words.

But that’s not all they’re good for.

These beautifully designed themes also serve as perfect platforms for thoughtfully chosen images that add nuance and meaning to the words on your pages.

You can’t use just any old images though. If you really want to add personality to your site, you have to choose images strategically. Some tips:

  • Experiment with using conceptual images. Conceptual images add shades of meaning and create curiosity without directly representing the topic at hand. It’s the difference between representing love with a photo of a heart, or a photo of a couple walking into the distance arm in arm.
  • Remember to position images to highlight your words. Many images “face” in one direction or another. If a person or an object is facing in a specific direction, make sure it’s “looking” toward your copy, not off the edge of your website. (For example, notice where David Ogilvy is directing his gaze in yesterday’s post.) If the original image direction doesn’t work, either flip it using image editing software or find a different image.
  • Establish an image style and use it consistently. You may decide that you’d like all your images to use a grunge effect, or to look washed out and antiqued. Apply filters to all your photos to give them this “look” and use them on all your pages and posts.

Our brains process images faster than words and have more resources available for interpreting them, so use images whenever you can.

Take the time to learn more with the free 12 Days of Visual Buzz course I created with Kelly Kingman.

3. Grab attention with an accent color

One of the best characteristics of a well-designed premium theme is that all the color choices are made for you. Subtle changes in color and tone highlight various areas of your site and draw your visitors through your information. It’s a beautiful thing.

But what if you want to stop your site visitor in her tracks?

If you want to grab attention and keep it, you should try an accent color.

Accent colors work best if they’re dramatically different from the most prominent colors on your site.

For example, if your site features cool blues, choose a warm orange or red accent color so it stands out. If your site uses rusty orange, find a bright blue accent color that will “pop” wherever you use it.

Accent colors should be used in small doses.

Feature them on your “submit” buttons, or create content box styles that use your accent colors when you want to make a special announcement. If you use an image-based header, your accent color can be featured there, too.

Brian Gardner comes to the rescue again for all Genesis Framework users with this post: Spruce Up Your Genesis-Powered Website with Content Boxes and Color Buttons.

If you’d rather not copy/paste code, try the Standout Color Boxes and Buttons plugin.

Having trouble figuring out what color to choose for your accent? Grab the replay for my Big Brand System Color Clinic and discover how to choose colors that work for your site.

4. Format your text so it’s easy to skim

Once your theme, fonts, images, and accent color have made your site visitor stop and pay attention, they’re going to dive in to your words.

Here’s how to keep them engaged once they do:

  • Break your paragraphs up into digestible chunks. Don’t turn your site visitors off because you’ve presented your information in one unbroken wall of text. The return key is your friend! Start a new paragraph any time a thought takes a turn or you need to add emphasis.
  • Sprinkle subheads liberally. Before your reader digs into your first paragraph, they’ll often glance down your page to see what it’s about. Your subheads give them clues about what’s ahead and help pique their interest for what they’re about to learn. Use subheads throughout your pages and posts to help entice your reader to consume your words.
  • Use bulleted lists. If you find yourself writing a sentence that uses comma, after comma, after comma … the alarm bells should start ringing in your head. It’s a bulleted list, waiting to be born! Bulleted lists break up your information and make it easy to read. Use them to add personality and skim-ability to your writing.

Get more on formatting your pages for maximum readability in this post:
8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content.

Now, over to you

I want to hear from premium theme owners: what have you done to the beautiful structure you installed to add extra personality to your site? What techniques do you use to make it memorable?

Share your tips in the comments, and let others learn from your experience …

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Reader Comments (33)

  1. says

    A great list here, Pamela!

    One tool I can recommend is Pixlr.com – it’s a great (and free) way to create small, basic graphics (or even headers!) for your site without the need for PhotoShop. The key to creating any graphic is to keep it simple, and keep it on brand by using the colours and fonts from your site.

    • says

      I agree, Gemma: pixlr is very powerful.

      I recommend the pixlr.com/editor tool, too: it has some pretty powerful tools that mirror what you find in Photoshop — and it’s free.

  2. says

    Thanks Pamela, for this straight to the point post.

    I just installed the Generate Child theme of Genesis on my blog and I’ve been thinking for weeks how to make it look different…

    Your 4 points has opened my eyes to some facts and tips to actually accomplish that.


  3. says

    Hi Pamela,

    I am guilty of using the generic Copyblogger Child Theme for Studio Press! Reading your tips though, I already have some ideas about how I can make my site have a unique appearance.

    Thanks for the tips!

  4. says

    Just like some new paint on your living room walls can really spruce things up! :-)

    My fav on your list is # 2, with # 4 a close second.

    Not sure where everyone’s getting their images these days, but I used iStockPhoto.com for the past 5 years. Recently, though, someone turned me on to BigStockPhoto.com and they’re now my “go to” source for images.

    Great post, Pamela!

    • says

      I started using BigStockPhoto.com images about a year ago — they’re larger than what you find on istockphoto.com, and since the trend in web design at the moment is to make everything oversized, the images work really well.

      Thanks for mentioning it, Mark!

      • says

        Stocksy is quickly becoming one of my fav places for stock images. I love that they have stock images that don’t look like stock images. They’re fairly new, so their image library isn’t huge yet, but still worth a look. Especially if you’re readers/customers are somewhat non-mainstream.

  5. says

    easy skimable text is important to engage people with your text.

    if the text is not skimable, you need to have a killer headline that makes me think this text is 100% what i want to read right now. but with great subheadings you get another chance, even if your headline didn’t hit the bullseye.

    an accent color is important to give your content meaning.

    if your visitors think that this text was the most awesome thing they ever read in their life, so what? (why did you write this text in the first place?) show them the next step with your accent color.

    having a great font and a great picture is the cherry on the top.

  6. says

    Great post Pamela! While making content scan-able is great and, fonts do seem to help…IMAGES can truly capture the attention long enough to truly reel people in…

  7. says

    Thanks for the helpful hints. I went to the Standout Color box link and downloaded it but the application won’t open. Have you tried it in awhile?
    Wondering if this in something on my end?

  8. Daniel says

    I installed the Generate child theme with Studiopress. It rocks however I had to add my own email optin form as a plugin called Hybrid connect. It would be pretty cool if the generate box was more customizable like a big sign up box when you enter the website that its right there instead of lets say a light box.

    I have to say though you can’t go wrong with any Studiopress theme it is built to last.

  9. says

    I play around with the coding a bit, but I find that subtle changes work the best.

    For example, flat design, soft shadows, careful use of color, are each ways to make your website standout. Hopefully I’m on track. 😉

  10. says

    Great post! I always try to get a premium theme of sorts and add some customization to it to make it more unique. Once the blog makes good profit, I might have a custom theme created. I think your tips are very helpful though, especially using a different font.

  11. says

    Hi Pamela,
    Your theme can be used by lot of people but a Site Logo, favicon, a catchy Tagline and the way you arrange widgets in your pages will always be remembered. Not sure how catchy my Tagline is :-) but its the best i have. Great post btw and +1 for the “Compelling Images”.

  12. says

    Great post, Pam. For graphics and some cool WordPress plugins, you can’t beat the Envato Marketplace. Their picture site, PhotoDune has great stock photos for a dollar each which fit the standard blog page width (500-600px) perfectly. Their coding site, CodeCanyon, has some unique WordPress plugins that do some amazing things, especially if you run a photo or graphics rich site. If you are looking for some cool cartoon characters for your site, be sure to checkout ToonCharacters.com. These are great for sidebars, sales-pages, and Powerpoint presentations.

  13. says

    You guys keep surprising me. You keep coming up with new info which helps me to improve our website in all areas. Marketing, writing and now even changing fonts.

    I learned so much from you in the past years I follow copyblogger. Thank you.

    • says

      I am learning so much from Copyblogger, too. I’ve got the skimmable down. Today’s learning, Fonts! I’ve installed the plug in.

      Two of my favorites are the Genesis Responsive slider and Magic Action Box.

      Thanks, Pamela.

  14. says

    I find that purchasing a good responsive theme just eliminates a lot of coding and makes it easy to customize the theme.

    The 1st thing I do is change the colors, find a way to add some social media profiles so readers can connect and also include sharing buttons to make it easy for the reader to share the content.

    Trying different fonts is a good tip, I also vouch for that. Another great post Pamela… Thnx :)

  15. says

    I definitely agree with the add an accent color, as long as it’s used within reason. I’m a huge believer in simple design, yet I see so many people try and make every element on their site stand out. All that does is confuse the reader. An accent color that contrasts well with your design will make people focus on what you want them to. Great post Pamela.

    • says

      I agree, Logan: if you use those accent colors too much, they become one of your branding colors. It defeats the purpose because they don’t stand out at all!

  16. Angela Wilkinson says

    You’ve made my weekend Pamela, I’ve got better with colours but I’ve been avoiding the whole how to change fonts as it did seem far more tricky than just entering a new colour code. Well until now that is!

    Thanks for the post, can’t wait to try it out :)

  17. Ria Parish says

    I couldn’t agree more about the font styles or adding an accent colour to really distinguish yourself from those with similar WordPress themes.

    Sometimes it only takes half an hour of fiddling around playing with an existing theme to get a truly unique design.

  18. says

    These are good ideas, but I would suggest picking an overall style for your site first. Then if you do all these things with that goal in mind, the impact will be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

    Like mine, I chose first to have a cheesy 50’s/newsy style, then created images and picked fonts and colors to reflect that. It turned out great, just because I focused a few elements in the same direction.

  19. says

    Awesome post Pamela!

    I was actually wondering the other day how sites use custom fonts and we manage to see them as they are without having the fonts installed in our computers.

    Thanks to your insightful post I now know there are services to provide that feature. Cool. :) I’m gonna check out some of these services.

  20. says

    Number 4, yes, very important. I leave sites ASAP when all the text runs together. And, bullet points is definitely the way to go. Numbered lists also fade for me.

    Want buy buttons? MaxButtons is great, and it is free. Shape you buttons, give them different colors, highlights, and hover colors. There’s an upgraded version with minimal cost if you really want something swanky. Hyper-easy.

  21. says

    Great article, it can definitely be hard to personalize web pages when you have no experience. It took me several years to learn WordPress before my site did not look like everyone else’s. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  22. says

    My bit of advice: Remove everything. I took a totally minimalist approach to designing my site(http://garaughty.com) on WordPress meaning…

    – no header
    – no footer
    – no sidebar
    – etc…

    The images in the content area replace everything including social sharing plugins. This approach gives a very clean, easy to navigate look. Sites/blogs with tons of content could use the same design approach by including deeper sections of the site in drop down menus.

  23. says

    Thank you for sharing these tips, Pamela. Will be of much use as I work with my new client on setting up their new WordPress blog. Not one bit a programmer here.

  24. says

    Pamela, I am regular read of your blog. You always shared some serious info and secret. Wish I could know how you can make all this, research things and split testing if required.

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