- Do you have a broken WordPress website from an update or what seems to be no reason at all? I’m going to let you in on a little secret from an expert in WordPress repair and maintenance. In my 10 years of work, I’ve been able to fix or at least identify a broken website problem at least 9 times out of 10.
Generally, we don’t want to believe our theme is the problem. We want to first rule out if it’s anything else. So this is the method I’ve used myself over the last 10 years maintaining client websites. I hope you find it useful.
Following the order I’ve laid out here should prove to be very cohesive. I feel it’s the best path to take to reduce debugging time and find the issue as fast as possible. A lot of these steps are very general and will work for most plugin and theme debugging. But of course, each website issue is very different and should be considered when following this blueprint.
Table of Contents
1. Disable all plugins
After disabling all plugins. Check the issue you were having. Does the problem still persist? If yes, it’s NOT a plugin conflict. Continue. do not enable plugins.
If the problem goes away, it’s a plugin conflict. Start enabling each plugin one by one until you find the one that is causing the conflict. To figure out exactly what that conflict is and why an how you can fix it, well that takes a keen eye and experience.
2. Clear your cache, completely
- Use relevant buttons inside your WordPress dashboard to delete cache entries. Disable all caching plugins if you haven’t already.
- Remove all cache folders via FTP. This won’t hurt anything unless you have manually created caching entries. Most plugins, when reactivated, will restore their settings and recreate the cache files.
- Delete your server cache. Most good hosting providers like Siteground, provide ways to clear your cache on a server level.
- Clear any caches on a CDN. Disable your CDN(if applicable). Hopefully you don’t have it caching logged in users.
- Clear your browser cache. I LOVE this chrome cache clearing extension.
- Reset permalink structure. Simply save settings in permalinks.
If the issue goes away, caching was your issue. Sometimes something as silly as memory can make it appear that your website is having issues when it’s not. When in doubt, try using your website in an incognito window or private window to verify if it was indeed a memory issue or not.
3. Developer Console
4. Divi Specific Rules & Settings
Divi has a built in support panel that will scan your server for incompatibilities. It’s located in the dashboard under DIVI > SUPPORT. If you see anything red, odd’s are that most of those warnings should be taken care of. Some warnings don’t absolutely need to be. This is a decision based off experience of the web professional debugging the broken website.
Other WordPress themes might have this built in functionality too.
If the issue was a plugin issue…
4.1 Gravity Forms
If your issue is related to building forms, Gravity Forms also has a built in server scanner located in FORMS > SYSTEM STATUS. Again, any settings here that are red and not green, should be addressed if applicable.
If your issue is related to Woocommerce ecommerce plugin. You can find the system compatibility checker at WOOCOMMERCE > STATUS.
4.3 WordPress Site Health
It’s possible that your issue could be WordPress core and the environment. You can check this with WordPress’s built in Site Health. In the dashboard go to TOOLS > SITE HEALTH. Again, if there are any issues, you’ll find some warnings here.
5. Disable your theme
This is one of the steps WordPress professionals will tell you to make earlier. However, I hate doing this. Mainly, because I’ve been loyal to two themes in the last 10 years and they are built incredibly well don’t experience too many issues within themselves. Divi theme and Genesis theme.
Hopefully if you are using a rockstar developed Divi Child Theme, you won’t have any issues switching from the default twenty nineteen and back to your original theme for testing purposes. You could also activate a CLEAN divi child theme to rule out if it’s an issue with your particular child theme. If you didn’t develop your website with a child theme, shame on you.
If the problem still persists, it’s NOT the theme. If it goes away, it’s a theme issue. Contact your theme developer OR Divi (if applicable) for assistance if you are not able to fix the issue yourself.
Was it a theme issue? Consider re-installing your core parent theme manually.
6. Consider your Hosting & Code
Poor hosting can sometimes lead to issues and depending on your issue, ask for help from your host. Some web hosts specialize in WordPress and are more than willing to help you solve the issue. Siteground is an amazing affordable web hosting company that I have trusted for years. Some are cheap hosting companies who won’t help you at all and might even make your problem WORSE.
With Divi WordPress theme, some very common issues are usually fixed with updating PHP versions.
From my experience WordPress & many plugins do not play very well with Microsoft IIS servers. I’ve moved websites from IIS servers to WordPress hosting, and it fixed all the problems. WordPress works great on Apache servers.
Here are some WordPress tools that might help with your debugging issues:
Well, that’s all I know…
7. Optimize and Repair your Database
To be honest, I’ve never really seen this FIX anything that was an issue. I normally see it speed up the website. But, it’s always worth a shot to see if it does fix something. Either way, it’s nice to throw out the trash and clean things up around the place while you are debugging. You never know when this might actually fix something. Has it ever worked for you?
My favorite database plugins include:
- phpMyadmin (Direct access, for advanced developers)
- WP-DBManager by Lester ‘GaMerZ’ Chan (great developer)
8. Scan for vulnerabilities
Are you still banging your head against the wall? Do you know how many times I’ve spent days trying to debug an issue only to find out that my issues were because someone skilled hacked the website? Don’t just rely on ONE WordPress security scanner to check your website. Use a few scanners. I’ve seen lots of scanners not pick up on stuff that other scanners did.
Here are some of my favorites malware scanners:
Check your .htaccess file and wp-config.php file for abnormalities. Reset them if you feel comfortable doing so.
If you were hacked, you have a few decisions to make. You can remove the hack yourself by downloading the files and scanning it for malware and cleaning it out manually and re-uploading it. Although, that won’t always clean the database of changed entries by a hacker either. I’ve also seen hackers install entire malware duplication software that was hidden DEEP within the server from fellow colleagues. Those guys can do some crazy stuff.
You can also choose to hire a 3rd party company to remove malware from your WordPress website or you can try re-installing WordPress and see if that fixes the issue. You better pray it does. lol
9. Reinstall WordPress manually
There have been a few times I just decided to install Worpress manually because the problem could have been caused by a corrupt update or database. Which I’ve seen FIX LOTS OF ISSUES in my past. Manually installing WordPress is the best way to ensure that you install a new fresh copy without issues. Thus, possibly ruling out WordPress as the issue.
10. Restore a backup
If you really haven’t solved the issue by now, which is crazy, I guess you could always restore a back up to the last working version.
Although, I’ve RARELY done this. Because I’m anal about solving what the actual problem is so that I can just fix it. Reverting back in time won’t solve the issue and it will just come back again eventually and haunt us. It’s a lot like real life. We can’t just throw away our problems under the rug. We need to face them and solve them. It makes us much happier people right? lol
11. Call the Army
When in doubt, get your theme developers, plugin developers and the WordPress community involved. There are a lot of seasoned developers like myself who don’t mind spreading a little help. Because I remember a time I didn’t know squat about web development or design and I appreciated any help I could gather myself or from kind peers. We are all in this together^^.
12. Call Me, Maybe? 🙂
When you are good at something, you tell everyone. When you are great at something, they tell you.
This is gold! Great tips Heather! What has always worked for me is plucking the theme, plugins and uploads folder from the site and then reinstalling the WordPress from scratch, even manually sometimes so then I know it is clean. Then uploading the 3 directories back to the server and running a WordFence scan on the site. This will flush out any theme specific issues and eliminate any core problems.
Badass, that does sound like a better starting path to save time on finding out the core issue. Thanks Valik!