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7 reasons your website might stop working – and fixes

Why would your website suddenly stop working? Here are seven of the most common – and with fixes to remedy the situation. Note that some of these relate directly to WordPress, but most are generic.

1. Someone ‘fiddles’ with the code
A white screen instead of the web page is a common WordPress situation. What’s usually going on is that the code has caused a major error and nothing apart from an error message can be outputted. Coding languages don’t like ambiguity or illogic. Accidentally leave a fullstop or a line break in the wrong place, spell a function name wrongly and the code will complain with an error message. But WP (and others) suppress error messages for security reasons. Result: a blank page.
Fix: try and find the code fault and correct it.

2. WordPress has updated itself (if set to automatically update) or someone manually has updated WordPress
New code can break: a) the theme you use; b) a plugin you use.
Similarly to #1 the result can be a blank page. It can also result in layout changes, text overlaying images, certain site functions not working (a banner rotator failing or a contact form not sending email any more etc).
Fix: check that plugins are not causing the problem (if they are, look for plugin updates, or in the support forum for the plugin or remove the plugin, perhaps replacing with another).

3. Plugins have been updated
Similar to #2, poor programming in plugins can result with them conflicting with either core WP code or code in other plugins. Plugins can overwrite variables that are already in use, or load javascript that is already loaded (or a different version of the same javascript function), they can try and do something that another plugin is already doing etc. The result can vary from the blank page to loss of certain functionality.
Fix: look for plugin updates, or in the support forum for the plugin or remove the plugin, perhaps replacing with another.

4. Server problems
Sometimes the webserver – the computer server that hosts your website and gives it access to the web – itself has malfunctioned or crashed, or the server techs have to restart it. These usually result in a 404 error and are temporary.
Fix: wait a bit longer or get in touch with server support.

5. Server updates
The programs on the server that run your site (eg webserver, php or other scripting engine, database engine etc) all get updated from time to time. This might be to fix bugs or patch a security hole, or may be part of the ongoing development and addition of features that programs have. But some updates can affect the code of your site – sometimes functions are removed from use (‘deprecated’) but your site code is still using them. This can result in error messages/blank pages or the loss of certain functionality.
Fix: allow error messages to show, and debug the code.

6. Your website has been hacked
‘Bad guys’ find access to your site and disrupt it. An attack can come through a stolen password to the site admin account, a stolen password to the server admin or ftp, security holes in site software or security issues with the webhost provider – although the latter is much less likely. The result can be changed site content – posting of content that’s not yours, addition of malware/backdoor, 404 error pages etc.
Fix: usually recover the site and database from backups.

7. Domain Name Server problems
You may know that your domain name gets translated into a numerical IP address. If something goes wrong at your domain name registrar and this translation is upset, you’ll see the 404 error. Not very common, but more common is that someone has messed with the Domain Name Server pointers or the A Record at the registrar and caused your name to be pointed to the wrong place. Much less common are problems with DNS or caching at your ISP, or that your hosts file got hacked and your computer is pointing the name to the wrong place, or that your web server name server details have changed.
Fix: Check name server and A Record details are correct. Use the whois function or DNS lookup to check where the internet thinks your name points to.

Of course preventing problems like these from happening in the first place is the best remedy. Having a website maintenance plan is highly recommended, read our article on that here. As is having a site backup function – read our article on that. And to make things easier for you we’ve got hosting options that include site maintenance and monitoring.

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