It’s what every blogger fears. Something has gone wrong with their blog. It could be something minor, such as, as with my case, excerpts not working, or it could be something major, such as the site’s home page being nothing more than an error.
This is not the time to panic. Most problems with WordPress are easily corrected but there is a very real risk that, by attempting to fix the problem through the wrong methods, you may do more damage than the issue itself.
So take a deep breath and start troubleshooting the problem. To best do that, you have to first understand exactly what is going on and then take precautions to prevent the problem from getting worse before you take any additional steps. Fortunately, the process is actually fairly easy and most of it can be done by just about anyone.
Step 1: Understand the Problem
The first step is always to try and figure out exactly what is going on. If you get an error message, search for it using Google. Odds are you are not the first to see the error and you’ll likely find some good resources that explain the problem and how to fix it. Pay special attention to any results that come from the WordPress.org forums as they are likely going to be your best resources.
This should help you deal with any of the common mistakes. Issues such as bad database passwords and so forth are common enough that a quick Google search can find both the problem and the solution.
If you don’t have a specific error message, meaning that something is simply going wrong, try to replicate the problem and test different scenarios. If it is a problem in the admin panel, try logging in from different accounts. If it is a problem with posting comments, try logging in as yourself and posting as well as posting as a stranger.
When you think you understand the exact problem, try describing the symptoms in a Google search and see what you find. Even if you aren’t successful, you will still have a better handle on the problem and can better diagnose it down the road.
2. Consider the Changes
Next, think about if you’ve done anything to your site recently that might have triggered the problem. Especially with obscure problems, it may have taken you a few days to notice the issue so be prepared to stretch your memory in those cases. Here’s a list of some of the more common things that can trigger problems in WordPress.
- Updating WordPress Itself
- Installing/Updating Plugins
- Changing a Setting
- Moving to a New Host
- Switching Themes
In short, anything you did to alter or change your WordPress install any way, including many things that seem innocent, can cause problems. This is why it is important to keep track of what you’re doing in case something goes wrong.
By now you probably have either figured out what likely caused the problem or what the more common solutions via your searching. Either way, you’re probably ready to take some kind of action but, before you do, it is worthwhile to take a moment to backup.
If you don’t have a good, recent backup of your site it is imperative that you make one now. Specifically, you need to make sure you have a copy of your WP-Content directory, specifically your plugins, themes and uploads folders, as well as a copy of your database, which will likely be obtained from your Web host’s control panel.
Even though your site isn’t working perfectly, there is likely still plenty of useful data that may be in danger of being overwritten.
4. Follow Advice from Steps 1 & 2
If you got a tip on how to resolve an issue from one of your searches or can think of something that you did recently and can easily undo, take that step now. This can include following directions on the WordPress forums, deactivating a plugin you recently installed or reverting back to an old theme.
If any of these things fix the issue, you at least know what caused the problem and can move forward without it, at least until the problem is patched.
5. Check Your Plugins
If there was no help available, your recent action couldn’t be easily undone (such as with a WordPress upgrade) or the steps didn’t solve your problem, a good place to start looking is your plugins.
Deactivate all of your plugins and see if that corrects the problem. If you can’t access the admin panel, you can use FTP to rename the plugin directory temporarily. If that fixes the problem, then you can assume it is one of your plugins creating the issue. You can then reactivate one plugin at a time until the problem resurfaces, letting you know which plugin is causing the problem.
These types of issues are especially common after WordPress updates its core files as many plugins have compatibility issues with new versions. Once you have everything working, you can check to see if there are any updates for your plugins that may address the issue.
6. Check Your Database
Using your site’s control panel, open up your database and, if possible, perform a “repair” on it. This will fix any errors in the database and ensure that everything is running as smoothly as possible. This should only take a few moments on a large database and is relatively safe to do. However, once again, it is important to have a backup available in case data is lost.
7. Reinstall WordPress
If it is not a plugin issue, then you may want to make sure you have a good clean install of WordPress, especially if you just did an upgrade. Sometimes core files can become corrupted and create some odd errors. Download a new copy from WordPress’s site and upload it via FTP.
Generally this is safe to do with a good FTP program, but it is especially important to have your backup ready in the event something goes wrong.
8. Ask for Help
Nearly all WordPress problems are beaten by this point but, in the event you’ve gotten to this point and nothing has worked, it is time to ask for help. I would submit a post to the official WordPress forums and get the help of the gurus there. If your problem seems to be related to a specific theme or plugin, you should probably ask your question on its site.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to do so publicly. Remember, if others were hesitant to ask for help in the public sphere, there would be no results for others to search for.
In short, by asking for help and discussing your problem on a public site, you’re assisting those who follow you to find the answer they seek. They find the answer faster and the same question doesn’t have to be asked hundreds of times.
If you’ve got a WordPress problem, the most important thing is to not panic. Most of the problems can be easily addressed though, if you go in and start tearing things apart right off the bat, you may damage your site in ways that can’t be repaired.
Taking your time and being methodical will not only help you get your site online faster, but ensure that it’s available for a long time to come.