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How to Fix WordPress Problems

Person frustrated by WordPress problem
Website and WordPress problems can be frustrating!

If your website is down or if you are having problems with your WordPress website, what do you do? Most likely, you contact your website developer and tell them you’re having a problem and ask them to troubleshoot and fix the problem. What does your website developer do after you contact them?

Website Down Alerts

At Design TLC, we usually detect that a website is down before our clients do. Our support plan includes a monitoring system that alerts us if a website is down. (You can use a tool like Uptime Robot to set up your own alerts.) When a website is down, we check out any error messages to determine what the reason could be and take necessary steps to get the website back up. There are several steps to take to identify WordPress problems. If the website is completely down, then we usually contact the website host.

Website Up But Has Problems

Sometimes a client alerts us that something on their website is not working properly (ie a form is not working, images are missing or they are not receiving notifications from the site). When this happens, we check out the website and see if we can replicate the problem. Depending on the type of error, there are several steps we take to try to troubleshoot the issue. Often the issue is something we have seen before and we can implement a quick fix. Sometimes the issue is a mystery and it takes several days and many hours to find the cause and a solution.

If you manage your own website here are the steps that you can take when you are havingWordPress problems:

  • Website is completely down: Contact your web host. (Wondering where your website is hosted? Learn more about managing your website account information here.) Most web hosting companies have a support page, where you can call, submit a ticket or do a live chat. If you are on a Managed WordPress hosting plan, the support should specialize in common WordPress problems. Some common errors you might see which would indicate a problem with the hosting include the following:
    • 503 or 500 error: This error indicates an issue with the server. Often it results from a timeout, meaning that the communication between the website and your web host is too slow. In some cases your web host can change some settings to increase the time.
    • Completely white/blank screen: This is called “The White Screen of Death” in the web development world! It is usually caused by a plugin or theme update. To fix it, you can disable plugins, or ask your host to help you.
    • “Error establishing database connection:” This indicates a configuration problem which your hosting company should be able to fix for you.
    • “Maintenance” message: This error happens when a plugin or theme gets “stuck” in update mode. It is a very easy fix if you have access to your website files via ftp/sftp or cpanel. Once you access the WordPress files, simply delete the “maintenance.php” file in the root directory.
WordPress problem stuck in maintenance mode
WordPress problem when website is stuck in maintenance mode.
  • Something on your website is not working properly
    This could mean your site is running unusually slowly, a form is not working properly, an error message is showing on the front or back end of the website, or email notifications are not received.
    • Check caching: Caching is a way webhosts help speed up your website. A copy of the site is kept/stored/”cached” so it will load faster. Sometimes aggressive caching can cause problems on WordPress websites. This means new information is not recognized. If you make changes to your website and they are not showing, this can be a caching issue.
    • Check Inspector for errors: Using Chrome or another browser, you can check the developer tools “console” to see if any errors are showing which may be causing the issue on the page. Even if you cannot understand what the error is, you might notice the name of a plugin or file which is related to the problem.
    • Deactivate Plugins: If you contact support at your hosting company or a plugin about something not working on your website, the first thing they usually tell you to do is deactivate the plugins on your site and reactivate them one by one, checking before each activation to identify which plugin is causing the problem. This often works, and if it doesn’t, then you have almost fully eliminated a plugin conflict as the cause of the trouble.
    • Temporarily change the theme to 2017 or 2019 theme: If the issue still occurs, you can rule out the cause being related to your theme. If the issue goes away, then you can troubleshoot your theme to find the problem.
    • Install the Health Check Plugin: This plugin will perform a number of checks on your WordPress install to detect common configuration errors and known problems. It includes a debug section, which allows you to gather information about your WordPress and server configuration that you may easily share with support representatives for themes, plugins or on the official WordPress.org support forums.
    • Contact plugin support if the issue suspected to be related to a plugin: Use their support/contact or the forum to let them know about the issue you are having. You may not get a quick answer, so you might need to turn off that plugin until the issue is resolved, or restore a backup of a former version (*see below).
    • Contact your webhost if you cannot determine the cause: If you have ruled out plugins and themes, contact your webhost support and have them run some checks. Often they can identify a server issue, plugin or theme issue, or a setting that needs to be changed. Most webhosts will do some basic checks for free; others will spend more time with you to troubleshoot.
    • *Restore a backup: If you are still stuck and cannot identify the cause of the issue, use your webhost’s backup restore tool. You should also have your own backup tool or file (read about why you should have your own backups here) which you can use to return your site back to a time when everything was working. Unless the issue is related to the hosting server, this should fix the problem.
    • Advanced checking: A “last resort” we employ is to copy the website to our local development environment, to a live staging environment or to our live development account to see if the issue occurs on a completely different server. Webhosts often will deny that their servers are the cause of the problem. If the same website works properly on a different server, this indicates it is a hosting issue. If the hosting company cannot fix the issue, you can move your site to another host.
    • Email issues: If you are not receiving email notifications from your website, this could be related to your email service/client or to WordPress itself. Here is a good article on email issues with WordPress websites and how to troubleshoot and fix them.

Your WordPress website is made with software made in an Open Source community. This means that in many cases, developers have created code and products for free! This also means that support is not always available when things go wrong. We use plugins and hosting that are time-tested and well supported to help troubleshoot and resolve any website issues. Our experience with a myriad of “run of the mill” as well as “mystery” problems helps us more effectively test, troubleshoot, identify and fix these issues to better serve our clients and ensure their websites are running smoothly. Contact us to talk about how we can help you maintain your website.

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