Absolutely nothing is more terrifying than when you’re trucking along doing things on your website and boom! All of the sudden things are very broken, and you’re not really sure what you did.
Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides of having your site on WordPress, but it’s also why we offer website maintenance packages to our clients! We don’t want you to have to email us at 3AM on a Saturday because you broke your website Friday night and have no idea how to fix it.
However, we want to make sure you know how to troubleshoot some of the most common WordPress breaks that happen so you can feel empowered and confident to take care of things yourself if you happen to take your whole site down. So, let’s get into it!
Please note: In some instances mentioned below, we recommend to reach out to your hosting company. This is because often times an error has a code related fix, and instead of potentially helping you break things more, we want you to know when it’s better to have a professional fix things for you!
The horrifying white screen of death
Let’s start with possibly the worst thing that could happen! If you’ve never done a lot of editing to the code on your site, then you might be fortunate enough to have never seen this. However, if you’ve tinkered around when you didn’t really know what you were doing, then you may have ended up hitting the Save button only to see nothing but a white screen afterwards.
Then your heart probably started racing.
Generally what happens here is that you’ve added or deleted something to the coding of your theme (think the functions.php file for example) or installed a bad plugin. Usually when this happens you’re stuck outside of your site both on the front end and your dashboard. So, you’ll have to turn to your hosting!
Once you log into your hosting account, you’ll want to access the File Manager and look for the wp-content folder. After that, you can go to your Themes and then the theme you had active or navigate to the Plugins folder if you installed a plugin. All you’ll need to do is delete the plugin folder you installed or find the file and line of code in your theme that you added and remove it. After you’ve done that, your site should be back! If it’s not, it’s time to contact a professional!
If you’re stuck in maintenance mode
Kory here! Oddly enough I caused this break to one of our sites recently, and even though it can be scary, it’s not that big of a deal. In my case, I believe I accidentally clicked something while a plugin was updating and that interrupted the process, which forced the site to get stuck in maintenance mode indefinitely.
If this happens to you, head to your hosting account and look for the .maintenance file! Most of the time all you’ll need to do is delete this file so that WordPress will show your site instead of their maintenance message to your viewers. If you can’t find this file in your File Manager, it’s likely that you need to contact your host and request that they change the setting to force show hidden files.
The page or post isn’t found.. 404 error
We see this happen a lot, and it occurs when someone changes their URL at some point and hasn’t setup redirects correctly (or at all) to point their old posts or pages to the right URL. This can happen if you’ve recently migrated from Squarespace to WordPress, if you changed your permalink structure in your Dashboard, or if you just decided to change your branding and thus changed your URL. Most people forget that with sites like Pinterest, your pins won’t be updated to the new URL automatically, which means if someone stumbles upon an old pin, they’ll get led to a 404 page.
First things first: if you’re changing your URL anytime soon, make sure you’re working within your host or with a plugin to redirect visitors from your old URL to your new one. This is a great way to make sure people get where they want to go without them even realizing they clicked on an old link. Second, consider installing a 404 Page plugin so that you can customize the error page people see. Krista talked about this on her site, and pointed out that by customizing your 404 error page, you’ll be able to direct viewers to other parts of your site without losing them entirely.
Another thing to mention: if you change your URL, make sure you or the designer / developer you’re working with helps you fix the links of your images around your site. If not, you’ll eventually end up with broken images everywhere!
Your images won’t upload
This is another super common error that we see WordPress users have. Most of the time the cause for the error is that the size of the image you’re uploading is just too big. This can also happen if you’ve used up all the memory on your database (say, by continuously uploading images that were too big).
Start by assuming that it’s just that one image that’s too big, and head on over to Canva or Photoshop to resize it. Keep in mind that your images only need to be the same width or 2x the width of the size of the area you’re uploading it to. For example, if you’re uploading a blog post graphic and the width of the posts on your site is just 800px, there’s no reason to be uploading an image that’s 4000px wide. Yikes! If you’re still getting an error when trying to upload your image, it’s time for a professional! Reach out to your host’s support team and explain the error. They’ll likely be able to fix it.
Your website takes for.ev.er. to load
Last but not least, another common WordPress issue we see. No, a slow load time doesn’t necessarily mean your site is “broken” like the issues above would, but it’s still an issue that you want to troubleshoot as soon as possible. If your site is loading too slowly, you’re running the risk of sending your viewers hitting the Close button instead of waiting to see what they came there for in the first place.
If this is happening to you, there are a few things you can do, but you want to start by making sure the images on your site aren’t too big, as we just talked about. You don’t need 4000x wide images for any reason on your site, so consider resizing and replacing those. You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t have too many unnecessary plugins installed on your site. Yes, there is a plugin for almost every functionality you want on your site, but sometimes you don’t actually need a plugin to do what you want to do
Good WordPress practices
If your website is hosted on WordPress (and we’re guessing it is if you’re reading this post), here are some good practices to keep in mind to avoid your site breaking:
- Keep WordPress, plugins, and themes up-to-date
- Deactivate and uninstall any plugins that you aren’t using
- Same for themes (we recommend keeping 3 themes on your site: the one you have active, Genesis (if you’re theme is built on that framework), and a backup theme
- Don’t touch the code if you don’t know what you’re doing