Your website is made up of countless moving parts, all working in tandem, so it’s not too surprising that occasionally some of those moving parts might clash or get stuck, causing an error.
An error message on your WordPress website can be distressing, especially when you don’t know what’s causing the error or how to fix it. Luckily, the most common WordPress website errors are well-documented and can usually be resolved with a little experience and know-how.
As a website owner, you don’t need to know the minutiae of every possible issue your website can encounter — but it helps to have a passing knowledge of what’s going on so that you’re better equipped to describe the issue and work with your website security expert or IT person to repair it.
Below are some of the most common WordPress errors that we see, along with information about their root causes.
Problems with the Internet
At the highest level, websites can encounter issues that originate with the internet itself. This can be anything from a faulty local connection to an outage at a large server, but in the majority of cases like these, there won’t be anything that an individual website owner or IT person can do. Even major websites like Amazon, Google, and Facebook experience the occasional blip due to forces outside their control. This is why hosting providers can only promise up to 99.999 percent uptime — not 100 percent.
If the error is originating from the internet itself, stay calm and wait until it’s resolved — and remember that a lot of other website owners are probably in the same boat.
Server-Side or Hosting Errors
Sometimes, an error originates from the server where a site is hosted. Error messages like “504: Bad Gateway” are due to communication issues between servers. These types of issues can happen for a number of reasons — for example, if a host server’s version of PHP is out of date.
Unfortunately, if the issue is on the server side, it’s largely out of our control. It’s up to the web host to ensure that their servers are running up-to-date software and are kept secure. If you are having an issue with your website, and we determine that it originates with the server, we can get in touch with the host and explain what the error looks like on our end, but it will be up to them to fix it.
With server and hosting errors, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s very unusual for reputable hosts to have server-side issues that cause outages for the websites they host. Ensuring that your site is set up with a reputable web host that has a history of strong web security practices is the best way to reduce or prevent server-side errors.
A firewall is a powerful and necessary security tool, but it can also cause website issues, especially if it isn’t configured properly. Firewalls are designed to block bad traffic, but if the parameters of what constitutes “bad traffic” have not been adequately defined within the firewall’s settings, then you might run into problems where some of your legitimate users are barred from accessing your site.
Firewalls use scripted rules and definitions to make decisions about whether incoming traffic looks suspicious or legitimate. In most cases, this works quite well to filter out bots, malware, and hackers, while still allowing the regular flow of legitimate web traffic. But if your firewall hasn’t been set up properly, or if the settings have been changed or updated by someone who isn’t familiar with the type of traffic you normally deal with, problems can arise.
Firewall errors are quite easy to spot — any error message that tells you you don’t have access or permission to access a website could be firewall-related. If you spot an error like this, your web security expert should be able to resolve it by updating your firewall, whitelisting your website, or otherwise tweaking the settings.
WordPress Website Errors
Now we get down into issues that are actually originating from your WordPress site. The bad news is that these types of errors can be caused by a lot of different things, and it often takes some detective work to determine their exact root cause. The good news is that these errors don’t tend to have a significant impact on your website’s security status, and with our expertise we can have your site back up and running quite quickly.
When we talk about the front end, we’re talking about everything that your users see when they visit your website. Front-end issues rarely affect the security or performance of your website, though they may affect usability.
Examples of these types of issues include:
- Misaligned images, headings, or design elements
- Content that functions well on a desktop but doesn’t work on mobile or vice versa
- Embedded videos or image maps that don’t play or load correctly
While these issues can sometimes arise from bad design in the first place, when they come on suddenly they can often be attributed to plugin or theme updates or code elements that are out of date and no longer meshing with the overall design.
With front-end website errors, there are often multiple contributing factors, and it can take some time to untangle them. The good news is that because the errors are local in nature, your web security expert can perform surgery on your WordPress site without having to communicate back-and-forth with any third parties, making the whole process a little quicker and less painful.
If the front-end is akin to the outer facade of your website, then the back-end is the sturdy frame on which that facade is built. In this case, we’re talking specifically about your WordPress dashboard, the screen that you, the website owner and any site administrators or editors can see when logged in. Back-end issues can also occur when a plugin or software is out of date or doesn’t agree with other plugins that you’re using, though they may manifest differently than front-end errors.
For example, if your PHP is out of date, you might get an error message that is visible when you try to log in to WordPress, or when you’re viewing your dashboard. This issue won’t be visible to your users, but it ultimately still affects site usability, because it will make it difficult to implement changes or add content.
These types of errors typically arise after an update to some element of the site. This is why when we do an update we always check the functionality of all the plugins. With proper website monitoring set up, we can find out about these errors as soon as they occur, then restore a very recent backup and resolve the issue quickly.
Issues with Third-Party Applications
Many WordPress websites communicate with third-party applications, whether it’s through plugins or embedded social media feeds or videos. Having a plugin or widget communicate with a third party application can make for a great user experience, but it also introduces potential issues that can be a bit tougher to resolve.
When you notice an error related to a third-party application, you can only see what’s going on from your own website. Likewise, your web security expert can see what’s happening on your site, but not at the third-party source. If you’re having an issue with a plugin that utilizes external fonts or feeds from news and social media websites, sometimes the only possible course of action is to make sure your house is in order — that is, check that the error isn’t originating from your website — and then wait until the issue is resolved at the source.
Forms are a specific kind of third-party plugin that tend to be problematic. Forms are essential for doing business online, but issues with forms are common and often difficult to detect — from the point of view of your website, it may appear that the form is functioning correctly, but the information entered may be getting lost before it reaches its intended destination.
If you suspect that a form on your website isn’t functioning correctly, fixing the problem can take a lot of trial and error, as well as communication with the IT team on the receiving end. In some cases, external mail servers can be a bit overly aggressive, and filter out messages that are actually wanted — think of all the legitimate emails that you’ve ever had to fish out of your spam folder.
Forms require a lot of testing to ensure correct function. This is why WordZite rigorously tests any forms installed on a site to ensure that responses are both sending and being received in the right way and by the right parties.
These days, most hosting providers will include a free SSL certificate with your website when you register your domain. That SSL certificate lets browsers know that your site is secure and safe for users to access. In many cases, web hosts automatically update SSL certificates for registered users, so these types of errors may be seen less frequently.
Regardless of whether it happens automatically, SSL certificates need to be renewed. Existing certificates expire, and newer SSL certificates are generally more secure, so making sure your SSL certificate is up-to-date is an important aspect of good web security.
The next time you encounter a WordPress error, don’t panic! As long as you’ve been diligent with taking regular backups and monitoring your site, it’s probably not too serious. If you have a good hosting provider and a knowledgeable web security expert, it’s likely that the error can be resolved quickly.
Your first course of action might be to rule out a case of PEBKAC: when the Problem Exists Between the Keyboard and Chair. If the issue is one of human factors, try using a different device or browser, or clearing your browser cache. If these measures solve the issue, you can rejoice and be relieved that the issue probably didn’t affect any other users.