I’ll focus on WordPress sites and themes here, but this advice applies to any website built using an existing theme as a framework or just for inspiration.
I’m a big fan of using existing premium themes for WordPress sites. There are so many quality themes available now that you should be able to find something that fulfills 80% of the design and layout needs for your site. Tweak the colors and layout a bit, and only web designers will be able to tell that you didn’t design your website from scratch. (And only web designers will care.)
However, there is a mistake that nearly every client we use a premium theme for makes. They fall in love with the demo site and THEN think of things to put in each little widget area of the site.
That is, they start with design, then they supply the copy for the site.
It really should be the other way around: Write your Copy → Find a design for your copy.
Doing something like “mobile first website design” helps with this. Maybe we need “email first website design” where instead of a website, you write an email to explain your company (keep in mind your goal).
Start with words. Then build a website around those words.
The thing is all of those widgets may look nice, but they’ll detract from your #1 goal.
The best example of filling a design rather than using a design is with sliders. Sliders are cool. They work for a lot of site. But for most sites, they are just an excuse to put off figuring out your #1 goal and enter EVERY thing you want to say.
If slide 1 is more important than slide 2… then you shouldn’t have a slider. Just show slide 1 and keep it there.