Your WordPress website is crashing, slowing down, or your PowerPress podcast RSS feed is broken. Try these 11 tips to diagnose and repair the most common problems for bloggers and podcasters.
My primary websites recently suffered a week of regular crashes. I manage my own VPS on Vultr, so it was up to me to diagnose and repair the problem.
Even if you're on shared hosting (like HostGator), a managed VPS (like HostDime, WiredTree or Servint), or even managed WordPress hosting (like WP Engine or Flywheel), the following steps are a good way to find and fix the problem.
In the audio podcast, I explain more about my own recent WordPress troubleshooting.
This is the single most important thing to help prevent problems. Backups give you a restore point to test before things went wrong, and backups protect you against permanently messing up something when you backup before you attempt a fix.
I think BackupBuddy is the best backup plugin for WordPress. It can backup your database and files automatically, and easily push those backups offsite—like Dropbox, Amazon S3, FTP, and more.
Alternatively, you can manually backup your database through phpMyAdmin (“export” or “dump”) or your hosting control panel.
2. Consider hiring help
I mention this because you could be setting yourself up for a lot of time and frustration to fix a problem yourself. Yes, it can sometimes be expensive, but so is your time.
This help may come from your web host, or it may be another expert.
Yes, I can help you fix most website and podcast problems.
3. Trace the problem logically and linearly
A lot of problems can be easily solved by tracing the problem to its source. You must be able to think logically and linearly in order to do this.
For example, if you have a WordPress website but you use Libsyn to create your RSS feed, then a problem with your podcast feed won't be on your website. Inversely, if you create your RSS feed with PowerPress and you use Libsyn only to host your media, then the problem with your podcast feed won't be in Libsyn.
Start with the symptom and work backwards, troubleshooting along the way.
For example, merely using FeedBurner won't guarantee problems (right now). In fact, FeedBurner may not be causing any problem with a podcast feed. The problem could actually be with what's creating the original feed.
For WordPress problems, Query Monitor is a great, albeit advanced, plugin for tracing problems. Query Monitor may reveal PHP errors in a specific plugin, slow MySQL queries, and other concerns that can usually be traced to a specific cause.
4. Test with “incognito” and other browsers
Your may hear about a problem that you don't see yourself. This is usually because of some factor present for someone else but not for you.
For example, most caching plugins won't serve you a cached website when you're logged in. Also, some browsers or browser sizes display things a little differently from what you may see.
Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and many other browsers (desktop and mobile) allow an “incognito” or “private” mode. This usually opens a new browser window with no history, no cookies, and no extensions. It's an easy way to see things from the perspective of someone new visiting your site.
Additionally, you may need to test in a different browser or device to see what's happening.
5. Revert changes
Look for any correlation between changes you made and the problem that you're facing. Did something happen when you added a new plugin or changed an option?
Backups make reverting really easy (remember to backup before you revert!). This is another reason I like BackupBuddy so much—it makes it easy to revert to a previous backup. Another way to revert is to just attempt to undo whatever you did that you now suspect caused the problem.
Try reverting to an older version of a plugin (downloadable from the “Developers” tab on WordPress.org-hosted plugins), disabling something you just installed or enabled, or try redoing your process with a clean slate (like a new page or post).
6. Deactivate WordPress plugins
WordPress plugins add wonderful features and functionality to a site, but badly coded or old plugins can cause other problems.
Try deactivating all of your plugins. If the symptom disappears, then the cause is in one of your plugins. Reactivate and retest one plugin at a time.
Or, you may already suspect a plugin. Try deactivating only that one to see whether the problem goes away.
When you have discovered the culprit, you can either troubleshoot its options, or contact the developer for help.
I did this when I installed the wonderful Social Warfare social-sharing plugin. I did find a little bug in their code, which they quickly fixed, but that wasn't causing my own crashes.
If you can't even access the WordPress backend to deactivate a plugin, there's another workaround. Login to your web server's file management (via control panel, FTP, or SSH), navigate to your site's WordPress folder, then navigate into /wp-content/plugins/. In this folder are all of your plugins. To force deactivate a plugin, rename its folder. For example, I would rename “powerpress” to “xpowerpress” so it's easy to find. To force deactivate all your plugins, rename the entire plugins folder.
7. Try a default WordPress theme
Some WordPress themes include plugin-like functionality that could be breaking things. Try switching to a “default” theme, like TwentyFifteen or similar preinstalled theme.
If you need a better WordPress theme, I recommend the following providers.
8. Optimize performance
A plain WordPress installation may work fine until you start receiving multiple simultaneous visitors, even if your host advertises “unlimited traffic.”
Think of it like a room in a house. You can theoretically have an unlimited number of people in that room—but not all at once! Simultaneous website visitors, just like running multiple programs simultaneously on your PC, will require more RAM and CPU.
The best way to optimize performance is with a caching plugin, like WP Super Cache (my recommendation) or W3 Total Cache. Your web host should be able to recommend the best plugin and settings for their servers.
9. Ask your web host
Your web host may or may not be able to help you solve the problem, but they can certainly help point you in the right direction.
The web host can check whether its someone else on your server that is causing the problem (often call a “noisy neighbor”), what resources are being hogged, if some hardware is failing, if the server is under attack, and even which website (on a multi-domain hosting account) is having the problems. (A problem with “index.php” will always be vague.)
If you have a managed WordPress hosting provider, such as WP Engine or Flywheel, they may be able to give you more specific help or even completely fix the problem for you—even if it's a problem in your WordPress site! This kind of hosting usually costs much more, but comes with many worthwhile benefits beyond their fantastic customer support.
10. Tighten security
There are rare times that all of the problems you face may not be your fault at all, but the consequence of being a random or intentional target of an attack.
Your site could have been hacked, infected with malware, or subjected to a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.
The best way to fix this is with tighter security. iThemes Security Pro can easily lock your site down with many customizations. A third-party premium service, such as CloudFlare or StudioPress Accelerator, can layer between your website and visitors to block you from attacks (and also speed up your website).
11. Hire help
If you have gotten this far and are overwhelmed or worn out and the problem is still not fixed, then you should consider letting someone else solve it for you.
Please don't undervalue the services of people who know what they're doing! The problem could take you a week to fix yourself, but take a professional only 15 minutes. That's because that professional's 15 minutes of labor is built on years of experience.
Their expertise is worth far more than their time. Thus, if it costs a few hundred dollars but only takes them 5 minutes, you probably got more value than you paid for! Not only can professionals fix something faster, but they can also save you the frustration of trying to understand things you'll never have to remember.
Don't think about how much a professional's 5 minutes are worth, think about how much many hours of your life are worth.
What has been your most obscure solution?
I've fixed problems by finding a bad line of code, disabling a hidden option, implementing rate-limiting, and upgrading themes. Comment with your story of fixing some crazy problem.
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