Fixing website problems: my process

Creative business, Websites

7 February 2020
Fixing website problems

If you have a website, you’ve probably already had at least one experience where it has thrown a tantrum and refused to cooperate properly. Something suddenly looks completely out of place, filter buttons stop working or the edits you just made to your website don’t seem to be showing up… issues can pop up in all kinds of ways. Everyone has troubles with their website – or the tech surrounding it – at some point, and it can be really helpful to have a troubleshooting process in place to follow when things go wrong.

Below I’m sharing with you my own troubleshooting process. When I’m faced with a problem that really stumps me, I fall back to the following 6 steps, and it hasn’t failed me yet:

1. Take a breath.

It can be so easy to panic when we’re faced with something we don’t know how to fix, and when we’re stressed it becomes hard to problem solve. We can also sometimes catastrophise, and it starts to feel like the fate of our whole website – maybe even our whole business – rests on this one problem being fixed. I find it hugely helpful to take a breath, and check in with my feelings. Am I panicking? Is this problem really as big as I feel it is right now? Maybe it is, but most of the time when I look objectively at a problem, the world really isn’t going to end if it’s not fixed within 5 minutes. 

2. Clear your cache

Very crudely, a cache is like a memory of a webpage that is stored somewhere – either on your computer by your browser, or by your hosting company. Without going into all the details (if you want to know, read up on it here: ), caching is important because it makes browsing the internet (and your website) faster, but it can cause problems if you’ve been editing your website, and the new (edited) website is different from the cached version on your browser or server.

Ever made an edit to your website, only to find that when you try and look at the edited page you can’t see any of the changes you’ve made? Yup, that’ll most likely be a caching issue.

Happily there is a very easy fix for caching problems: clear your cache. Here’s how:

Clearing your browser cache

Around half of the problems I am asked to help with are resolved by clearing a browser cache. If you edit your website, get friendly with this process, as it’ll save you a lot of time and stress wondering why things aren’t working.

Sometimes, all you need to do is a hard refresh, which is simply refreshing the page a few times in quick succession. On a Mac you should be able to do this by holding down the CMD key + pressing the R key a few times, on Windows this should be Ctrl + F5.

If this doesn’t make a difference, try the long route & clear your browser cache via the browser settings. This is different for each browser, but help is an internet search away if you don’t know how. This is also a handy article which gives information for every major browser, and seems to get updated regularly: 

Clearing your server cache

Giving instruction for this one is a little trickier, as the process will be different depending on what hosting company you use, and whether a plugin is used or not. Check your website for a caching plugin, or try searching the help pages on your hosting company’s support pages for instructions on how to do this (if caching is included in your hosting). When in doubt, contact your hosting company support, or check with your web designer.

3. Check for updates

If cache clearing hasn’t worked, the next thing I think about is whether updates might be causing problems. If updates are needed (to your website theme, plugins or WordPress itself), try running them, and get everything up to date.

On the other hand, if the problem seems to have occurred immediately after running any updates, it could be the update itself causing the problem. Sometimes incompatibilities occur, and you have to hold off on running updates until the theme/plugin company resolves the problem. If this seems to be the problem, I’d suggest reverting back to a previous version of your website and installing updates one by one to pinpoint which software is causing the issue. If the idea of that fills you with terror, contact someone who will do this for you.

4. Check other browsers & devices

Next I try using the website on different browsers and devices (computers, phones & tablets) to see if the problem is occurring everywhere. If the problem seems to be happening everywhere, for everyone, there’s definitely something up. If the problem is happening only on one kind of device or browser, that can help direct you or your web support as to where the problem lies. If the problem is happening ONLY on your computer, then your computer may be the issue. Aside from caches, things like spam software, computer settings and out of date software can cause problems. If this is the case, then no amount of fiddling with the website is going to make the slightest bit of difference.

5. Sleep on it

If I’ve got this far and I still can’t figure out what’s wrong, I step away from it. I take a walk, have a cup of tea, or sleep on it and take a look again in a day or two. Only a couple of weeks ago I spent a whole afternoon trying to work out why the homepage on a new site I was working on kept re-directing to the wrong url. I eventually threw my hands in the air and decided to come back to it another day. When I did, I immediately realised my problem: I hadn’t cleared my browser cache properly. I did just that, and the problem was immediately sorted. I was tired when the problem occurred, and wasn’t thinking straight – which goes to show not only that exhaustion is the enemy of problem solving, but that even web designers forget to clear their caches sometimes too!

6. Ask for help

If I’ve got to this point and I still have no idea how to fix a problem, I ask for help. Who I ask depends on what the issue seems to be related to, but generally someone with more experience in whatever area I suspect to be the issue. Your next port of call might be:

  • Your web designer/developer
  • Your hosting company support line
  • A support line for specific software, if that seems to be the problem (e.g. theme developers, plugin developers)

Whoever you ask, all the work you’ve done up until now will help them identify what might be wrong, so be as specific as you can, and send screenshots if needed.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

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