What Theme: A New Website Theme Detector Powered By WordPress

In an era where many website designs are powered by popular themes, it’s become common for folks passing by to want to snoop under the hood to find out which theme a site is using. If the visitor is not capable of inspecting the code with his browser, he might resort to a service built to automatically detect theme details. This has resulted in a proliferation of websites and browser add-ons that detect this information.

What Theme is a new service that detects WordPress, Ghost and Shopify templates, even if the site is not using a commercial theme. For example, if you search WP Tavern, you’ll find that our site is using the Stargazer theme:

what-theme-example

It does not yet reliably pick up on WordPress child themes, as I’ve discovered in this instance and a few others.

How What Theme Works

The engine itself is built on top of WordPress and in just a few weeks it has completed over 13,000 searches across over 4,000 unique sites. What Theme co-founder Jonny Schnittger gave us the details on how it works. “The current version of WhatTheme integrates with WordPress like a theme or plug-in would,” he said. “It gives us a lot of detail regarding what people are looking for and how successful they were.”

When a user searches for a site, What Theme checks its existing catalog and if it finds it, the results are returned instantly. “In this scenario we attempt to identify the theme using several different methods,” Schnittger said. “At this point we also gather a bunch of other information that we are currently not surfacing/using).” Once the engine has found the name, it attempts to identify across various catalogs and sites. “Sometimes we get multiple matches,” he said. “In this case we try and evaluate the best match and direct the user to it.”

When What Theme fails to identify a theme, Schnittger said they use various pattern matching algorithms to suggest themes from the same category, such as blog, portfolio, food, etc.

For example, if you search for “WordPress.com,” the engine fails to match it to a theme:

what-theme-fail

As you can see, What Theme also offers an option for the visitor to sign up to be emailed when the theme is found. It also funnels you to its top selections for themes in the “blog” category, all of which are Themeforest items with the What Theme affiliate ID. In the future, Schnittger hopes to expand the suggestions, based on fonts, colors and layout.

What Theme Plans to Expand to a WordPress Installation and Customization Service

What Theme currently has basic support for Drupal and Joomla and plans to expand to include more CMS’s, such as ModX, DotNetNuke, Umbraco, etc. They are working to improve the accuracy of results for all supported platforms.

Co-founder Catalin Zorzini let us in on some of their long-term goals. “We plan to become the go-to resource for web designers and developers being asked by friends and relatives to build a website for them on the cheap or for free,” he said. “So instead of being forced to say no or to make empty promises, now they can just send them to whattheme.com and we’ll take care of the rest.” What Theme will then ask them what site they would like theirs to look like and recommend an existing template based on that. “The next step is to integrate it with a WP install and customization service,” Zorzini said.

The What Theme site is another interesting take on services aimed at capitalizing on the millions of people searching for WordPress themes. Many services, such as Theme Friendly, are built around helping users shop for WordPress themes, with the primary monetization in the form of affiliate links.

What Theme is different in that it hooks into the fact that the consumer has already located a theme that he likes. The long-term strategy for building a customization service as an offshoot of the theme search seems to be more promising than depending on affiliate links for income. What do you think about the What Theme search engine? Will they be able to leverage the traffic into a successful WordPress business?

17 Comments


  1. Cool product! But it currently doesn’t detect parent themes when a site is running a child theme. That should be as easy as reading “Template: [ ___ ]” in the child theme’s style.css–hope they implement that soon.

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  2. Good enough concept, but has no one heard of hiring native speakers to edit your copy? That tagline is almost unintelligible. Can we try “Create a website similar to the one you like”? or maybe “Like a website’s looks? Find out what theme it’s wearing.”

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  3. Please, learn the difference between “what” and “which.” The use here is one that calls for “which.”

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  4. I find their ‘service’ somewhat misleading. They seem to parse the themes style.css to find the theme name but then ignore the author uri and instead show a ThemeForest (in the hope to collect the referral fee I guess). It would be better if they showed who the actual author is and then also show a link to a comparable theme on ThemeForest.

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  5. Our tool WPThemeDetector.com has been around for a while now, detecting parent and child themes from the beginning, and plugins for more than a year. It has performed hundreds of thousands of searches, ghatering a wealth of interesting information, which is also manually supervised in order to keep false or undetailed results to a minimum. Statistical information obtained from all those searches is also used for our Top Themes, Top Plugins and Top Providers reports.

    The site has recently been completely redesigned, and now includes many new features providing very detailed information about themes, themes providers and plugins, as well as some additional information such as the usage of CDNs or WordPress specialized hostings. Also, when the tool can´t find any detailed information about a theme, it checks its database to give you the details about the probable theme used by the analysed website.

    If you haven´t checked our tool yet, I encourage you to give it a try. And if you´ve only used its previous version in the past (the new version was released four weeks ago), please check it out now again. You´ll be surprised :)

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    1. I’ve been using your tool for a while, and it’s impressive. Although it doesn’t detect all the plugins, it always detect the theme correctly. But I must say that I’ve also discovered a few great plugins :-)

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  6. It’s good to see a new tool to help learn about Themes.

    Themes lack the coverage & support that we expect with plugins … yet the theme is more-fundamental and is unique, with each site. Logically, each theme offered in the WordPress collection should have more & better documentation than a plugin. Yet the opposite is true.

    Raising interest & awareness of the theme, as WhatTheme and related tools do, is all to the good in moving toward improved treatment of theme resources.

    (That some of these tools also detect plugins, is excellent.)

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  7. I use SpyBar most of the time because, like Firebug, it integrates into the browser well – but it’s a premium browser plugin that I paid for. WP Theme Detector is good also and I’ve used it several times.

    The drawback to each of these applications though is that none of them detect ALL of the plugins in use on a site. Does anyone know of an easy way to see all the plugins running on a WP site?

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  8. How is a service like this a good thing? I don’t get it. How does it do anything but feed people to their affiliate links? It’s useless for custom themes (which is good!), and of questionable value to people who don’t realize that there is way more to creating a site than picking a theme.

    It just devalues the effort put into sites by highly trained developers and designers. As for the founder’s goal to be the guy you send your cheapskate friends to — that just perpetuates the notion that you can get a great site for cheap. Again, devaluing the efforts of trained professionals.

    Why is a supposedly reputable site pandering to stuff like this?

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    1. How is a service like this a good thing?

      By making it easier for the curious to see what theme a WordPress-based site is using. It has educational value. That doesn’t mean there can’t be downsides … but that there might be downsides certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t upsides. There are!

      As for the founder’s goal to be the guy you send your cheapskate friends to …

      Easy on the cheapskates, there. Without them, where would WordPress be? That somebody is gonna try to do something on the skate … and that somebody is gonna try to skim a buck off the action … are both bad? I mean, good luck trying to have it both ways.

      Truth is, both are part of what makes the world go round. Many people are mainly after free stuff; a few think they can find a way to make money. Personally, it looks pretty forlorn, in the long run, trying make money off media.

      The Koch Brothers just turned down the LA Times, for $13.99 and a free cold drink coupon. How big & bold does the writing on the wall have to be?

      Capitalism is still legal. Guns. Sex. Political Incorrectness. It’s America. It’s WordPress! :)

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      1. Okay, you got me on value to the curious. And of course the WhatTheme service has a right to exist. I wasn’t disputing that. Just wondering why this was worthy of space and time when we could be getting reviews and articles that are of greater value.

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      2. Just wondering why this was worthy of space and time …

        It’s an exciting capability, to be able to know about the theme in use on a site, because theme enhancements or modifications to WordPress are of great interest, to people working to get WP to do new/different/cool thing. [Same goes for plugins.]

        That the theme in use is not overtly exposed limits the understanding we can achieve, of the code behind a site. Since part of the ‘deal’ with WP is that it’s Open Source, and thus available for examination, so we can all know what it is doing & how it does it, it’s a little counter to the ideas & philosophy of the base-product, that the theme is obscure (it’s an ‘accident of history’, that it works out like this).

        WordPress is GPL, and derivatives of it are therefore also GPL. Themes offer the opportunity & means to modify the WP code-base (more or less), and to the extent that they create a derivative work (which varies…), they are subject to the same provisos.

        There are proprietary themes, legitimately. Obviously, such products should not be creating derivative GPL works (tho some probably are). In the bigger picture, though, successful businesses catering to Open Source market-sectors (like WP), make their code GPL too. Their business-model does not rely on keeping their code secret. Indeed, they often ‘make a show’ of giving away the code.

        Generally, themes are part of an Open Source product & environment, and it’s at best going against the grain, to figure on keeping a component intended towork within that setting, closed & hidden.

        So yeah, for sure – broadly speaking, WP-mods are stuff that we expect will be exposed.

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