Have you ever been working on your website and suddenly something goes wrong? Yeah, us too. A lot. What makes it worse is the hours spent trying to explain your problem to the product support team. All the back-and-forth can be so time consuming and totally frustrating. We absolutely feel your pain. As a team that handles a lot of WordPress support, it’s our main priority to help you succeed. That said, it is often so hard to get you the answers you need because of misunderstanding or misdiagnosing the problem. So, in order to help you and set you up to get the best and fastest response when you need support, we’ve built this guide to walk you through how to troubleshoot your website without the back-and-forth from a support member.
It sounds a little daunting, but troubleshooting is actually a lot easier than you think! Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it. Almost all of the “something is broken” questions we get come down to one of four underlining issues, with the most common being the first…
1. Update Your Plugins and Theme
This should always be where you start if you’re are experiencing an issue. When developers find bugs, they create fixes and then they update their product with those fixes. We can’t emphasize enough that you want to keep your theme, plugins, and WordPress core up to date. Almost all updates can be made right from your WordPress dashboard.
We get that many people are nervous about updating their website. They don’t want something to break because of an update and are therefore concerned about updating. Not updating should be much more concerning to you. You need to have a good plan for how you are going to manage your website and keep it secure by keeping its plugins up to date. We strongly suggest a good backup plan. You should be keeping regular backups of your site automatically, and whenever you need to update your plugins you can run an extra backup just before to be safe. This can give you peace of mind to update your site.
2. Website Caching
Caching is tricky to understand and often most people are not aware of all the caching that is happening on your website. Before we go further, let’s try to explain caching in simple terms.
Caching is a temporary data storage that allows viewers of your site fast access to the final output data. Your website server runs through hundreds of thousands of bytes of code to produce a single page on your website. All that code processing produces the raw HTML that a browser can read to visually display your site. Instead of processing all that code every time someone comes to your site, the final output of raw HTML is “cached” and that cached output is then sent for the next visitor.
Again in simple terms, if you change something and want to see that change reflected on your site you have to clear that cache.
Now here is where things get tricky. You have layers of caching on your site. This starts with caching in your database through layers and layers and in the end, your browser itself is caching what it gets from sites in order to speed up your experience. Sometimes part of your cache can be cleared and it creates an issue because a part is updated and another part is not and your site then has something not working properly.
How to Clear Your Cache
In order to clear your cache, you need to identify the best you can what caching is being applied to your site. Many hosts have their own caching applied on your site, some plugins have their own caching (like WooCommerce for example), and many people install caching/script minify plugins. Then of course there’s your browser cache itself that needs to be cleared.
Clearing Common Server/Database from within WordPress
Usually within your WordPress admin if you have a caching plugin, and even if your host is applying their own caching plugin, you will find a caching area in the top admin bar. It may be titled a little differently than the image below, but this is generally what it will look like and you would just click something along the lines of purge all caches.
Clearing Minify/Script Caching from within WordPress
Similarly, in your WordPress admin you may be running a script optimizing plugin such as Fast Velocity Minify or Autoptimize. These plugins have options for clearing their cache in the admin bar.
Clearing Browser Caching
From within your browser, go to your history and choose the clear all history setting.
WooCommerce Template Caching
It’s uncommon that you would need to clear this, but if you are dealing with a translation issue or something strange not working right in WooCommerce this is useful to try. Navigate to Woocommerce > status > tools and from there scroll down to the template cache.
Once you have all your caching cleared, test your site out to see if that has solved your issue. Also, note it’s good to have a conversation with your hosting provider if you are unsure or suspect they have caching running on your site.
4. Plugin/Theme Conflicts
There are many plugins and many developers doing things in a lot of different ways. It’s very tough to isolate your code in WordPress so that conflicts are inevitable. What’s crucial to be able to diagnose a problem and find a solution is that you have to be able to determine which plugins are conflicting. The simplest form of this is to deactivate plugins one by one until you uncover what the conflicting plugin is.
Many people do not want to deactivate their plugins one by one for fear of breaking something on their site, or breaking the site while a potential user is viewing the site. Thankfully, there is a better way to test for conflicts by using the Health Check Plugin developed by the WordPress community.
Using Troubleshooting Mode in Health Check
1. Install the Health Check Plugin by going to Plugins > Add New in your admin. Then in the search type “health check”. Install and activate the Health Check & Troubleshooting plugin by the WordPress Community.
2. Navigate to the Tools > Health Check in your admin and there click on the “Troubleshooting” tab at the top of the page. That will reveal the “Enable Troubleshooting Mode” button.
Troubleshooting mode will allow you and only you to view your site and admin with everything turned off. That way your users can keep using your site without issue and you can test and discover what conflicts might be going on. Once enabled, you will be using a default theme and no plugins will be active. Usually, the first thing is to start activating your theme and priority plugins so you can recreate your environment and start testing for the error.
You can get out of troubleshoot mode at any time from your admin bar or from the home page in your admin dashboard. Now it’s time to test away without worry of breaking your site or ruining your users experience.
If you need support, being able to identify which plugin is part of a potential conflict is critical to getting a faster response.