WordPress Plugin Troubleshooting

Today I want to share with you an easy tutorial that could help you get a website error under control, as long as it involves a WordPress plugin. This tutorial is specific for self-hosted WordPress, since I have no experience troubleshooting on other platforms.

Has it happened to you that you visit your website, and things are not like you left them? Maybe an icon is looking off, or there's a line of code above your website. Or maybe your whole footer is empty, all its content gone who know where! You log in to the admin area, and the footer content is where it's supposed to be-why is it not showing up?

Like one of my clients likes to call it, the "website is possessed" again. And seriously, that's how it feels when you have no idea what has happened!

WordPress Plugin 101

If you've every paid attention to everything that happens in the admin area, what seems to run the page are all the different WordPress plugins installed on the website. That's what upgrade your website from a basic content page, to all the interactivity and functionality it displays. Plugins are great! But WordPress plugins are actually not created by WordPress, they are all created by third-parties. Really, anyone who knows how to code PHP can create a plugin. It does not even have to be regulated by WordPress' plugins market, since you can even upload plugins directly from your computer. Since there's no regulation, a plugin could accidentally affect other plugins. WordPress is also constantly evolving, so, plugins have to be kept updated so they still work.

So, a few safety precautions to avoid issues with plugins first:

  • Do not install a plugin just because. Research about it, read reviews and ratings, follow recommendations from more experienced users. Again, anyone can create a plugin, so, don't create a back door for someone with bad intentions.
  • Keep your WordPress up to date, and keep plugins up to date and compatible to with your WordPress. If a plugin has not been updated in a while, and that makes it no longer compatible, it's time to look for a replacement.
  • Don't use more plugins than you need. Every plugin you install and activate means more for your website to load. Use what you need, deactivate what you don't currently need, delete everything you no longer use, especially if it's no longer compatible.

Now, that being said, it sadly doesn't mean you won't ever have problems. I've used good quality, freshly updated plugins that for some reason or another don't get along with another plugin I'm using. But when you have no idea what has caused the issue, how do you know what plugin is affecting your website?

Well, there's a good old way of troubleshooting your website so you can determine what's causing trouble. It's not fast, but it's fairly easy if you're familiar with the WordPress admin area. So, let's jump to it!

Note: I don't recommend this to people who have NEVER been in the Admin Area. Things might be more confusing for you if you have never navigated around there.

Troubleshooting

I'll use the image above for reference with some of the explanations. If you navigate to the Plugins option on the sidebar, you will land on this page. All your plugins are stored here, and you can Active, Deactivate, Delete them and more from here.

  1. Deactivate all your plugins. You can do this individually, by clicking on "Deactivate" under the plugin's name; or by selecting the checkbox right under the "Bulk Actions" drop-down, and then selecting "Deactivate" from that drop-down. Note that Deactivating is not the same as Deleting. Deactivating saves all the information you have on that plugin, it just disconnects it from the website. But if you delete it, you are erasing any information contained there, and if you install it again, you have to start from scratch with the plugin.
  2. Depending on the problem you're experiencing, you may need to activate the plugin where the problem is happening. For example, if the problem is within the WooCommerce plugin (I had that recently, that when someone wanted to check out their shopping cart, an error would appear), then the WooCommerce plugin needs to be activated so that you can verify if the problem is still happening or not.
  3. In another tab, open up the page where you are having trouble. With all the plugins deactivated, the problem should not be there anymore, but things may look different because you don't have a lot of your functionalities running.
    If the problem is indeed not there, continue with point 5.
    If the problem is still there, despite all your plugins being deactivated, look at point 4.
    If the problem happened within a plugin, like in point 2, and it's the only plugin active, then you know the problem is within that plugin; jump to point 6.
  4. You may also need to deactivate the theme you're using, but I personally only do that if I've gone through testing and don't find the problem. To do that go to Appearance > Themes, and activate the default WordPress theme. As of the day this was written, the theme is called "Twenty Seventeen".
  5. Back to the plugins: start activating the plugins one by one. Every time you activate one, go and refresh the website to see if the problem reappears. Once it does, you'll know the plugin you just last activated is the one responsible for the issue. You may want to try some more testing by having all your plugins active except for that one you've determined cause the problem. Activate it again, refresh the website, double check that plugin is indeed the one causing the problem.
  6. Depending on how much you depend on that plugin, you may want to replace it for something that is compatible with your setup. Time to do research and find alternatives. If you depend a lot on that plugin, look at the next point.
  7. If the plugin causing the problem is an essential part of your setup, it's time to contact support. As you can see in the image above, under the description of the plugin you can see who created it and read more details. Either of those options should take you to their support page. Depending on how big the company or individual behind the plugin is, there might be options for live chat, submitting support tickets, or just email a contact form. Additionally, some companies have official Facebook Groups for their plugins, where you can ask questions, get help, or be redirected to support if the community can't help you solve it.
  8. In the mean time, while the problem is solved, determine if the problem is big enough to keep the plugin activated or not. If you decide to keep it deactivated, despite the fact that it controls functionality of your page, you may want to post about it so your readers don't stumble upon it and report it to you again. If your whole page doesn't work without it, you may just put your website under maintenance mode with a note explaining a bit what happened. I personally use and recommend the plugin "Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd".

And that's it. Good luck troubleshooting your website. But don't let this scare you: WordPress plugins are the best! Things just don't always work out and fixing needs to be done, happens to every website and there's no way to avoid it. Just make sure you know how to handle though, it so you don't have a broken website for too long!

Computer screen displaying code

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