There are more than 2.5 million WordPress websites out there, with 500 new sites being created every day. Yet many of these sites look so different from one another that you’d never guess they were running the same Content Management System (CMS). It seems incredible that website owners are able to accomplish such a feat.
The answer to this puzzle is simple, however. There are thousands of WordPress themes and plugins available – tools that give each new site the potential to become something unique. If you learn which of those themes and plugins your favorite websites have used to achieve their look and functionality, you can discover how to attain some of the same results they so impressively display.
In this article, we’ll recommend a selection of tools for discovering which themes and plugins your favorite sites utilize, and show you how each one works. We’ll be focusing largely on tools available within the hugely popular Chrome browser, but we’ll mention alternatives for other platforms along the way too. Let’s get started!
1. Search With a Web-Based Detector
The simplest way to peer behind the curtain of a website is to use a web-based detection tool. There are a lot of them, and most are free and easy to use. All you have to do is type in a URL, and the tool will do the rest.
A good place to start is with SoftwareFindr. This tool does an excellent job of providing key information about what WordPress theme a site is using and how to get it for yourself.
Just key in the url you want to check, click to search and you’ll see the results. SoftwareFindr will display a link to the theme, version number, description, author and licensing terms (note: if the site you’re checking isn’t using WordPress or if they’re using a custom/highly-customized theme you’ll see an error notice instead).
Since we’re specifically focusing on WordPress websites, another option is ScanWP. If you enter a web address into the search bar, you’ll get results that look like this:
You can see here that the WebGrowth Academy website was built using our Total theme. If you scroll down, you’ll also find that it uses the WPBakery Page Builder plugin. This tool won’t reveal every plugin a site is using, but it will show you one or two of the most common. It will also help you determine whether the website you’re looking at was actually built in WordPress. If it wasn’t, you’ll get a message informing you of that fact.
If you want greater detail about how a website was built, you can also try BuiltWith. It’s a similar tool that is a little more dense and technical in nature. However, it can show you information well beyond just themes and plugins – including widgets, hosting providers, and analytics software.
2. Install a Detection App
ScanWP and BuiltWith are simple yet powerful tools. However, they require you to visit an external website to find the information you want. It can be useful to have access to behind-the-scenes data while you’re still on the website in question, especially if you intend to investigate a lot of sites.
Fortunately, you can install an app that will integrate with your browser and provide an easy way to get some details on any site you visit. We’ll stick with ScanWP for now, since they offer a version of their tool as a browser extension. Simply install it in Chrome – it’s free, and should only take a minute.
Once it’s installed, you’ll see a new icon at the top right corner of your browser window. This icon will change depending on the CMS of the website you’re on. If you’re visiting a WordPress website, you’ll see the WordPress logo (a stylized ‘W’). Click on that icon, and you’ll see the same information we found before:
3. Use a Browser Inspection Tool
Maybe the above tools aren’t enough for you, however. They don’t show all the information about how a website was built, after all – for example, they’ll only display a few plugins, even if the site you’re looking at uses a dozen. If you want to go deeper, you can explore a site’s actual code for further clues.
In Chrome, you can do this by right-clicking anywhere on a website and selecting the Inspect option. This will open a panel in your browser that displays the website’s code. It’ll probably look overwhelming if you’ve never looked at site code before, but we’re just looking for one piece of information. Do a search within the code for “style.css”. You should only get one result, and it should be part of a link. If you examine the link closely, you’ll see the word “themes” followed by a slash and the name of the theme the site is using. In this case, we can again see that WebGrowth Academy is using the Total theme:
It’s possible to do this in Firefox or Safari via a similar method. If you’re also curious about plugins, you’ll need to do a bit more technical work. However, you can often determine what plugins a website has installed using the browser inspection tool. This final method is certainly the most complex, but has the potential to reveal the greatest amount of information.
Building a WordPress website can seem like a big job at first, especially if you’re looking to create more than a simple blog. Thankfully, you don’t have to start from scratch. Learning what themes and plugins your favorite sites are using is a surefire way to jumpstart the process and provide you with options you’ve already seen in action.
There are plenty of ways to find out exactly what tools a WordPress website has installed, so you can learn from its developers’ decisions. Try using one of our mentioned three methods to inspect your favorite sites.
Do you have any questions about investigating WordPress websites? Let us know in the comments section below!