Reverse Engineer Any WordPress Website – Discover The Hidden Secrets

Reverse Engineer Any WordPress WebsiteMost of my website design work is for other people more than for my own business. Because of that, my first meeting with a client involves getting information about what they like and dislike about their competition’s websites. The answers to that usually end up with several URL’s for websites that have features they’d like to duplicate on their own. For example, a cabinet shop I’m working for liked a carousel image display on one of their supplier websites and wanted something similar on their website.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could get a peek into the backend of a website and see how the designer did it?

Sure, I can examine the source code and see what is going on, but it would be a lot easier if I knew exactly what plugins and themes were used when the website is built on WordPress.

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Can You Discover The WordPress Theme Being Used?

In July, my colleague, Sarah Gooding, wrote an article about how to determine the theme that is being used on a WordPress website. You can simply visit What WordPress Theme Is That and enter the website URL to discover the theme being used.

In January, my colleague, Tom Ewer, wrote an article about “How To Find Out If A Site Is Running On WordPress.” Tom suggests using a Chrome extension called Theme Sniffer that resides in your extensions library and will show you what theme is used on a WordPress website whenever you click on it. This is amongst the simplest methods I’ve found, but it appears it’s only available on Chrome. But, if you are a Chrome user, it’s super handy.

The closest thing that is available for FireFox is Wappalyzer – but it’s not as slick as the Chrome Sniffer extension. Wappalyzer has a Chrome extension as well, but with the simplicity of Chrome Sniffer, I would probably not even consider it.

What WordPress Version Is Installed On A Website?

In August, I wrote an article about a Chrome and FireFox extension that will display an indication when a WordPress website you are visiting is using an older version of WordPress. I like this extension because it requires no extra effort on my part.

Of course, you can always visit What Is My WordPress Version, type in the URL and discover the WordPress version currently installed there. But, just like with the theme website noted above, it’s a bit more tedious.

What Plugins Does A Website Use?

WordPress PluginsI probably get asked once a week by some of my developer friends, “I wonder what slider they used on this website’s home page?” or some variant of the question.

I’ve always been pretty good about digging into the page source and finding that information. Everyone can discover that information if they’re willing to become a WordPress sleuth – and it’s not too difficult.

If you are a Chrome user, simply click on your Settings icon, hover over Tools, and then choose View Source – or you may use the shortcut keys <CTRL> and <U> if you’re on a PC. If you are a FireFox user, navigate to Tools, then Web Developer, and finally Page Source. Once you are on the page listing the source code, press <CTRL> and <F> to open the “find” window. In that window type /plugins/ and then you can simply “walk” down the page to see each plugin mentioned in the source code. This is a little clunky and tedious, but it gets the job done.

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Is There An Easier Way?

Anyone that knows me well or follows any of my writing knows that I’ve been called “The Laziest Marketer” – a title that I wear with pride because I don’t like to work harder than I have to. I subscribe to the concept of “Word smarter, not harder.”

I’ve recently discovered a very simple add-on that works with both FireFox and Chrome (sorry IE users, it’s not available for you) called SpyBar. After the add-on is installed, a little magnifying glass (or spyglass if you wish to call it) appears in your top browser bar. WP SpyBar Magnifying GlassWhen you are on a WordPress website, you simply click on the icon and a window opens up showing you the name of the WordPress theme on that website, a list of all the plugins that it detects on the website, and some valuable links. The first link is to an SEO Explorer called Majestic SEO. The second link is to Alexa showing all inbound links to the website in question. The third is a link to the Who.is record for the domain.
WP SpyBar PopUp
As you will notice from the screen capture above, the theme and the plugins appear in blue indicating that they are links. You can click on any of these links and a new window will open showing a Google search for that theme name or that plugin name. I’ve looked at several websites that have some neat features and discovered the theme or plugin that they’re using so much faster than I have in the past. Manu time I’ll spend an hour or so researching a theme to discover exactly what theme is used. Now, I can easily find most themes in minutes.

What Can Be Accomplished With This Information?

Bwhahahahah, many evil schemes can be hatched with these vital pieces of information! Countries will fall! Industries will collapse! Entire economies can be crippled!

Not really.

It’s just a quicker way to gather some information about a prospects website or a competitors website. Since information is power when working on a website, then more information quicker is definitely more powerful.

Is It Only For WordPress Websites?

Most of the information (themes and plugins) is only available for WordPress websites, but the three links at the bottom of the window – SEO Explorer, LinksIn, and WhoIs – are active regardless of the website you are on. This can be valuable to discover what a competitor is doing to generate higher rankings than you or your clients are. This information, coupled with a good ranking strategy can potentially increase you or your clients rankings going forward.

What Can This Be Used For?

From the moment I first saw this little browser addition, my mind began to spin with the potential. My initial thought was the amount of time I could potentially save by not having to dig through page source code hunting plugins. After working with it a while, I see even more value in the SEO Explorer and LinksIn sections.

The SEO Explorer link opens MajesticSEO which can be used to determine a number of things about a website such as number of referring domains – with a breakout of the number of .edu and .gov domains, number of backlinks – with a breakout of backlinks for images, nofollow, redirects, frames, and even deleted backlinks. This one tool alone provides more information in one place that many of the services I’ve seen before. You can get a FREE account with Majestic SEO and get a lot of information.

If you click the Linksin link, you are taken to Alexa and show a list of the top 100 websites that have linked to the website. According to Alexa, if a website links in more than once, it’s only counted once. Also, adult sites are counted in your Alexa ranking, but are not shown in this list. Once again, a lot of valuable information for sleuthing around a competitors website.

I have made some suggestions to the product developer (he asked for suggestions from customers) and hope to see those additions in a future version. My suggestions were:

  1. The ability to see the WordPress version in the window
  2. A visual indication in the magnifying glass when you are on a WordPress website
  3. The ability to print a report from the window of the WordPress version, theme, and plugins list

I’m sure I’ll come up with one or two more as I work with it more, but these three enhancements could make what is already an outstanding tool even more valuable. I’m looking forward to future updates.

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If you’ve not seen this tool – or anything like it before – be sure to check out SpyBar. This plugin has been extremely valuable to me in my business, and I believe many others will find it equally valuable. Do you have tools that help you like this? If so, be sure to mention them in the comments section. If you’ve tried this tool yourself, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments as well.

Photo Credits
dynamosquito via photopin cc
Rennett Stowe via photopin cc

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Comments (19)

      • Goodday Eugen – and thanks for commenting.

        May I ask upon what you base that conclusion? I am curious to know myself so that I may more intelligently respond to your comment.

        Once again, thanks for commenting…your input is valued here in the wpmu community.

    • Goodday Ajay.

      I have dug around in the code for ebay.com many times before trying to figure out how they did certain things, but I went back to it again today just to see if I was totally out to lunch. I can find no references to anything WordPress in the ebay.com source code that is visible. If they used WordPress and modified it to make eBay, then I would have to safely assume that they modified it beyond the point of recognition. If you examine the source code of the home page, there is only one instance of the letters “w” and “p” being next to each other in that order and it’s not a WordPress reference.

      Might I inquire as to where you learned that eBay may have been built upon WordPress? I am very curious to know as it could make for some interesting conversation in some of the groups that I’m a member of.

      Thanks again for your comment. I look forward to your answer.

    • Thanks for your comments Tom.

      As far as what theme and what plugins – you are correct. You can find all of that information in the source code. However, I challenge anyone to find all the information that WP SpyBar finds in less time (or even the same amount of time). For me, the time I spend on anything is either money in or out of my pocket, so I want it quick and accurate. The quicker I get my information, the quicker I’m on to something else.

      However, the backlink information, the who.is information, and all the other information that it pulls cannot be found in the source code. That information is pulled in seconds from outside websites. True, you could also look for all that information by visiting your favorite services, but you’d still have to make the effort to do that. With this, you get it all with a simple slick of the magnifying glass.

      If you are comfortable slogging through the source code and have the time to do it, by all means, don’t buy this extension/add-on. But, I’m always on the hunt for something better and quicker. Plus, once you find out all the plugins, you still have to do your own Google search to find out more about them. With this tool, you go right to a Google search with a single click.

      Time = Money!!!!

  1. I’m guessing you didn’t do much testing yourself James. I’ve been using it (SpyBar)for a few days and keep coming up with discrepancies – sites I know are WordPress but show up in SpyBar as non-WordPress sites.

    Odd as it seems James, this site, or sister-site appears to be a non-WordPress site. At least according to SpyBar. Try checking http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/.

    That makes SpyBar a toy, but not a tool.

    • Thanks for commenting Bob.

      Actually I did a lot of testing before I wrote the article – and I use it EVERY SINGLE DAY that I’m working. I also have the other tools that I mentioned installed and they confirm the information that SpyBar gives me without fail. If one of my other tools tells me that a website is built in WordPress, SpyBar gives me all the information that it can harvest. When one of the other tools tells me it’s not a WordPress website, SpyBar confirms that as well. It has never disagreed.

      As for http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/ it is actually NOT a WordPress website. My other tool that tells me what a website is built with (Joomla, WordPress, etc) it confirms what I know personally. WPMUDev Forums is built using bbPress. In fact it is built on a much older version of bbPress that has been highly customized for the Dev community. Additionally, it was just recently redesigned and updated but still remains a bbPress platform as that is a forum package that integrates with WordPress very nicely. The main part of WPMUDev is WordPress and SpyBar (and my other tools) report that correctly as well.

      While I appreciate and respect your opinion and input here Bob, I must respectfully disagree with you. I have found NO negative issues using WP SpyBar. If you are experiencing these issues, I’d suggest that you put in a support ticket at the developers support desk (inside the members area) as you may have an issue with the original download that you picked up. If you still have an issue, then exercise your 30 day return privilege. If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t even consider it a toy because a toy would still work.

    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your comment, as creator of SpyBar I thought I’d reply which might be of help for you.

      The only instance of SpyBar not recognizing a WP site to my knowledge is when that site using an iFrame to display the contents of another WP site. This is extremely rare but it has been logged and we might be able to deal with this in a future version.

      In terms of the example http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/. This site isn’t actually a WordPress site so obviously SpyBar can’t display the Theme and Plugins as they don’t exist.

      Inside the SpyBar members area you’ll find a Enhancement section so if you have specific examples of these discrepancies and could take a moment to post them there we can consider these for inclusive of an upgraded version which you will receive at no charge. This way we all benefit going forward.

      Kind regards,

      Rob.

  2. Thank you both for the reply.

    I have found a few sites where SpyBar differs in opinion from BuiltWith, so perhaps that’s where my confusion starts. And I admit I’m most confused about WPMU’s forum. In the forum, a discussion disclosed that WPMU was using bbpress contained within the WordPress site. And BuiltWith shows it as a WordPress CMS, so it is obviously confusing.

    Content Management Systems
    WordPress

    My intent was corrective criticism of the bar, not to disparage the product. As I mentioned, I have found a few discrepancies and will make not of them on the site.

    James, if I have to keep checking the results, that means I can’t trust the results. But then I wouldn’t rely on a toy as much as I would a tool. And I would still play with that toy, so long as it was entertaining.

    No product is perfect of course. It takes time and feedback to make it so. And I don’t return/throw away a product that I like and that has potential, just because it has glitches.

    • Thanks for your clarification Bob.

      As for WPMUDev, yes, it can be a bit confusing. Depending upon what page of the website you are on it may be a WordPress page, a bbPress page, or whatever. Because bbPress kinda dovetails into WordPress it can work seamlessly from one page to the other – regardless of whether it’s a WordPress function or a bbPress function.

      I don’t actually check the results every time except that the tool I use in Chrome puts an icon in the address bar indicating what the website is built with, so it actually requires NO extra effort on my part. Based upon my experience so far, I’ve determined that I can pretty much trust WP SpyBar. I do hope you can get your issues resolved and get use from it as well.

  3. It seem like a cool tool and can be worth it for some people, but I don’t think $13 can be justified when there are other free extensions that can do enough. Well maybe not sniff out plugins, but enough. However if you’re building sites every day with a new client every week I would buy it. I also get really turned off by WSO, they are soooooo cheesy and get-rich-quick-y

    I do wish you mentioned the price in the article :).

    Cool find though.

    • Goodday Joseph.

      Thanks for commenting on this. I’m sorry I didn’t mention the price – it was so inexpensive that I didn’t even think to mention it. In fact, I think I paid less than $10 for it when I picked it up.

      For me, it is definitely worth it because I’m always digging around in other websites and I’m building stuff for clients (or myself) almost all my waking hours – except when I’m writing articles for WPMU. 8|

      Don’t let me get on my WSO soapbox. There’s not enough virtual ink for me to write my entire opinion. But, I don’t mind picking up some WSO’s when they are useful tools. I rarely buy the “Here’s how to make millions the way I did” WSO’s – probably shouldn’t say rarely, I almost never buy them. When I buy a WSO, it’s usually a tool that I hope to find useful and I either buy it from someone that I’ve developed a relationship with or from someone that I already have a relationship recommends. I’ve had enough of buying junk from newbie WSO authors that disappear without supporting what they’ve developed.

      That’s what I like about the things that we have access to in the WPMUDev.com community. Those are plugins and themes developed by professionals that will more than likely always be there in the future to support and develop them further. Plus, we have the entire Dev community to provide support at lots of levels. If you’re not a member, be sure to check it out.

  4. No doubt Joseph. With the trash (mostly, overwhelmingly, considerably, a preponderance) coming from WSO, I had to think hard about this one. It was the recommendation of this forum/website that closed the deal for me. You are right, when you’re browsing sites and ideating (I like that word) this little toy can save you a bunch of digging time, so for that, it’s a deal.

    • You have noted a reason that I was hesitant to write about this one, Bob. I know that WSO’s are getting a really bad reputation over the past few years. There are still some gems out there and I use several products that I picked up from WSO’s over the past few years. But, like I responded to Joseph, I realize the issues with WSO’s.

      However, you can be assured that if I write about something, here on wpmu.org or anywhere else, and recommend it – even if it is a WSO – it will be something that I’m using either on my own or my client’s websites. Plus, since we don’t use affiliate links here on WPMU, you’ll also know that we have no financial reason for recommending something. If I write about it and I’m using it, you can expect me to state that. If I’m writing about it and I’ve just started trying it out, I’ll also state that. Finally, I’m writing about some tools over the next few weeks that I’ve been given for the purpose of reviewing. In those articles, I’ll disclose that the tools have a cost, but I was given use of them for the article. But most of all, if I discover something that isn’t quite up to par, and I contact the developer about it and they are less than helpful, you can bet I’ll disclose that as well. By always trying to be transparent, I intend to maintain my integrity as an author.

      Thanks again for your comments…they are greatly appreciated.

  5. Wow great thorough responses James. I definitely trust the WPMU.org authors, just surprised to see a paid plugin! But undoubtedly useful tool if used enough, for the cost of a casual lunch.

    I agree 100% with your sentiments on the WSO’s, a lot of it is trash, but if you’re willing to pick through there might be a few gems.

    • Thanks again Joseph.

      I definitely don’t mind reviewing paid plugins, themes, and other tools – especially if they are things that I use myself in my own business. I’ve bought a ton of WSO’s over the past few years that I’ve been in business. Some have been really good gems. I’ll probably share more of those over the coming months, but you can be assured that they are things that have helped me in my business. If it makes my life easier, makes things go quicker, or just plain works great, I have NO ISSUES with paying for something. But, I try to be smart about the dollars that I spend. And price is not the deciding factor for me – it’s all about the value that I receive. I’ve bought expensive stuff that was a total waste, inexpensive stuff that was worth a mint, as well as the opposite situation. WSO’s are like panning for gold – gotta sift through all that dirt to find those nuggets.

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