From the time you decide to start a website to the time you throw up you hands and put your domain name up for auction, you will have problems with your website.
Most people will make a big deal about the amount of money you may be losing by having down time, but (for me at least) the biggest issue is that I don’t want to spend a bunch of time that I don’t have treading out of my depth to fix a website.
But stuff happens. Either I get ambitious or I try to mash-up too many incongruent parts and things break down….. and they must be fixed. A couple of things about me: I get massively annoyed to fix anything (my wife will mouth an amen to that) AND I am extraordinarily
lazy efficiency-driven. So, I thought it would be an interesting post to share how I minimize my aggravation and maximize my time to do anything other than spend time in an FTP client.
Or put more succinctly, how do you quickly diagnose and fix problems with your website?
There are going to be aspects of this (like mention of plugins) that are geared towards webmasters of self-hosted WordPress sites, but I think that if you were using WordPress.com or another blogging platform, the spirit of efficient troubleshooting would transcend the specifics of this post geared towards the self-hosted WordPress user.
“First you want to turn off all of your plugins.”
Two truisms about any advice you’ll get to fix your website: people will tell you to disable all of your (WordPress) plugins and change your theme. I think for most situations both pieces of advice are a waste of time.
Most of the time you know what you’ve done to create the situation that you’re in, right? You went into your FTP client and changed a particular file and now your screen is a white siren screaming that you jacked up your code to the point of uselessness. You added a queuing plugin and enabled a bunch of options without understanding what they did. THAT is what’s causing your problem. Or at least they are the most likely culprit.
So, the first piece of advice I offer for the lazy troubleshooter is to focus on the last change you made. Undo THAT last installed plugin. Undo THAT last change. That’s a good place to start. Turning everything off will only tell you if your problem is a plugin or a theme…. an answer that in all likelihood you already know.
Google in quotation marks and search available forums
When it comes to errors with your website, Google is your best friend….. so long as you use quotations.
If you get an error message capture the entire message (unless it cites a line number, which indicates that you’ve dorked up some code), put it between a pair of quotation marks in Google and search. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a host of people who have encountered the exact same problem that you’ve encountered AND how they’ve solved them.
If you think that your plugin or theme might be the culprit, if you search wordpress.org for the plugin you should find a support page with problems other people have encountered with that plugin. Most premium themes also have support pages – I run Thesis on my site and they have an extraordinary body of support documentation on their site, and I’ve heard the same about Genesis as well. The admins in these forums are lightning quick to help you diagnose and fix problems as well.
If you cannot find anything in these forums you may want to check the forums for your server host, too (or seek some support from them). There are server-side issues that you may encounter that have little or nothing to do with anything you are doing on the client side.
Assuming that you found the solution to your problem through one of these methods, how do you fix your problem?
FTP Clients are frightening… and necessary for the lazy troubleshooter
What if you have dorked up a file and can’t run the administrative page for your site? The error message tells you exactly which file you need to fix and what line of code you need to resolve to get your hijacked site back. What do you do?
You need an FTP client. I know that a lot of hosting services have web-based FTP clients (GoDaddy is one), but the user experience for a web-based client is a little lacking.
I use Filezilla, which is a free FTP client. After set-up, it’s just a matter of logging in and you get access to all of your files. There are also controls built into Filezilla that prevent you from making file changes without a double-check.
Here’s how this is helpful: say you’ve changed something about your theme and you’re getting an error message telling you exactly which file is in error. You can download a clean copy of your theme to your local computer, log in to your FTP client and simply replace the problem file with a clean file. With a proper FTP client, resolving problems with your site can be just as simple as maneuvering files on your home computer.
To those of you with properly functioning websites, a public service announcement….
It may be that you’re reading this and your site is running smooth. To you I ask: how are you backing up your stuff?
Imagine you get a piece of malicious code introduced into your site, which (for lack of a technical term) mucks it all up. What do you do?
If you have an off-server back-up of your files, it may just be as simple as replacing the corrupted files with your most recent backup (with your increasingly handy FTP client). If you don’t have a back-up of your stuff you could (for lack of a more technical term) be screwed.
Please back your stuff up – there are plenty of plugins and businesses that do it automagically. There’s no excuse not to, and you could be compromising all of the work that you’ve done to share your insight with the world.
So, my intent was to show you a little bit of how my lazy mind works. I hate spending any more time fixing broken stuff than I need to, so I find the most likely culprit, use the resources (Google with exact match search, product forums) to find out how people have fixed the same problem, I use an FTP client to replace corrupt files with clean files, and I always back-up my files off-server.
There’s a good possibility that you read this and have an even more efficient way to troubleshoot and fix website issues. Selfishly, I hope you’ll leave a comment and share.