Common WordPress Issues

WordPress is the best – really. It is amazingly flexible, expandable, SEO-friendly, and easy to use. That’s why I use it on almost every single site I build.

But any web platform has its quirks, and WordPress is no exception. Plus — stuff happens.

If you all of a sudden find that some aspect of your site isn’t working and you have not been messing with code you should not touch, then the fix might be simple. There are a few things I do every time someone contacts me because something on their site isn’t working anymore.


This won’t fix anything, but before you do anything on your site, you need a backup. In fact, you should be doing regular backups of your site anyway, before anything goes wrong. On most sites I build, I install a plugin called Backup Buddy to make backups easy, but it doesn’t always work. Some servers are not set up to allow backups this way, and some sites are just too big for Backup Buddy to handle.

Your web host should have a way for you to easily make a back up of your site. This should include not just the files on your server, but also the database (very important – your database holds all of your content!). Some offer this for free, others charge a small fee to run backups. It’s worth it. My host, WPEngine, backs up all of my files and database automatically every morning. But most hosts don’t offer this level of service, so really, stop what you are doing and go see what your host offers. If they don’t offer any easy way to backup your site – you should consider switching hosting companies.

Run a backup today and then try to do one every week or so, depending on how often you update your site. (If you post a lot to your blog, for example, you should be backing up at least your database daily.)

2. Run Updates

When you are logged into WordPress, you may see a little icon that looks like this at the top:

Screenshot 2015-03-20 14.49.54

The number is the number of things on your site that have updates available. These might include WordPress itself, plugins, and themes. Click on the icon to go to your Updates page, and you can see what is currently out of date.

But what should you do before you run any updates? BACK UP YOUR SITE. Seriously. Always.

If your site is all backed up, then just follow the on-screen directions to apply any updates. Nine times out of ten, running these updates will fix whatever issues you are having.

(Note: If I created a custom theme for you, it should never say that that theme needs an update. If it does, it means that someone out there created a theme with the same name as yours, and their theme needs an update. Don’t update it! Email me if you have any questions at all about a theme update.)

3. Save Permalinks

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual posts and pages. WordPress handily creates these for you and creates a file to make sure the links work for all of your users. But occasionally, for no apparent reason, something will get wonked up in the file it creates, and those permalinks will stop working, leading to people seeing broken or missing pages. Luckily, this is really easy to fix!

Just mouse over Services in your WordPress sidebar, then click on Permalinks. This will take you to the Permalinks Settings page. Don’t change anything on this page! Just click Save Changes at the bottom, even though you did not make any changes. What this does is fix that file, removing the wonkiness.

When someone is having random missing page issues, or is seeing the wrong content show up on a page, it is almost always a permalink issue, and re-saving the permalinks fixes it right up.

4. Ask for help

There are some situations you probably can’t fix yourself unless you are savvy working with files and code. That’s when you contact your web developer or webhost for help.

Some of these things include:

The White Screen of Death: Yes, this is a thing. If you go to your website and all you see is a white screen, you are encountering the infamous White Screen of Death. It can be caused by a lot of different things (plugin or theme incompatibilities, corrupted core files, evil gnomes) and is often difficult to pinpoint. Contact your web developer for help.

‘Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Please check back in a minute.’: This message will show up on your site while you are updating plugins, but if the updating process gets interrupted, it can get stuck there. If your site is giving this message and you are done with any updates, wait a few minutes and reload. Wait and try again. Take some deep breaths. Have a snack. Try again. This message will usually clear on its own, but not always. If you are savvy enough to connect to your server via ftp, you can connect and look for a file named .maintenance, and delete it. Fixed! If you don’t know how to do this, just contact your web developer or your web host, and they can take care of it for you tout de suite.

Internal Server Error: If you go to your website and see the dreaded Internal Server Error – again, wait a little bit and try again. I have found that this is often a temporary issue that will go away in a few minutes. If it persists, contact your web host or your web developer. It is usually caused by a corrupt file, a bad plugin, or a memory limit.

Error Establishing Database Connection: Again, most of the time this will be temporary and go away. If not, contact your web host as it is likely that their database server is down.