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This happens to best of us and I know I had to deal with it on more than one occasion – a broken WordPress blog… As a direct result of one of our actions we run into issues that could be different in severity ranging from partially lost functionality to a complete mess. New year traditionally pushes bloggers to take a look at their blogs for possibility of redesign or adding functionality – which in many cases followed by issues…

In this post I want to discuss 2 of the most common problems that lead to a broken WordPress blog and How to fix them!

While there are many things that can lead to a broken functionality in your blog or a complete visual mess my personal experience and many hours of support I put into WordPress blogs clearly separated 2 major issues that seem to come up time and time again:

  1. New plugin install or upgrade of existing plugin
  2. New theme installation or modification of old theme.

In this post I want to discuss how to effectively work through the issues that lead to a broken WordPress blog, how to possibly avoid them by using best practices.

New plugin install or upgrade of existing plugin

This one creates perhaps the most problems and I have been caught in it several times myself. Plugins are a means of adding new functionality and extend capabilities of default blog installation but also the source of many problems.

Install of new plugin is a bit different from update but also a common source of problems. However much author of plugin tries to ensure that his code will work – problems are quite frequent. A few simple steps completed PRIOR to install can help you avoid most of the issues and revert back to working state such as:

  1. Backup your database
  2. Verify that plugin is compatible with your blog by visiting author’s page and look for requirements and any comments left by others. Generally if any issues identified – see if they might apply to you.
  3. Install plugin and test functionality it affects. This one is crucial step and be sure to not skip it.

But I know from personal experience that even doing all the steps above sometimes doesn’t prevent issues from poping up later quite unexpectedly. So how do you fix them?

Whenever I run into problem related to plugins I follow simple steps to troubleshoot and fix them:

  1. Usually a problem manifests itself in form of broken functionality. Whether noted by you or one of your visitors – it should be your starting point of troubleshooting. Evaluate plugins that affect that functionality of the core install and try disabling them. Links to author page should be available from your Admin->Plugins section. Try to remember LAST INSTALLED plugin before issue was reported and try disabling it.
  2. If unable to locate specific plugin that creates issue – revert to drastic measures. Place your blog into maintenance mode using this plugin. This allows you to see the blog while other visitors get message that your blog currently under maintenance instead of errors. Disable all plugins and start activating them one at the time and testing your blog after each. This will help you isolate plugin that created an issue. When you have identified plugin with problem – see if update is available or if other people had same issue. Try fixes suggested. Doing a search for specific error generated by plugin usually helps.
  3. Get upclose and personal with your database. This one is source of my main gripe with WordPress design. By default as you activate plugin and some themes it will add its settings into wp_options table in your WordPress database. Problem is – once you deactivate plugin, it doesn’t remove setting left behind. I have covered this part in great details in my post “2 Things I Hate About WordPress And How To Turn Them Into Your Advantage“. Do take a few minutes to read.

And on last note… I have seen this come up often enough that it needs mentioning. If you rely on custom URL structure for your blog for SEO purpose (and I do hope you have that implemented) – check your .htaccess file. Make sure it has the right code in it and update permalinks structure to make sure your blog is current. More details here.

New theme installation or modification of old theme

Themes are perhaps the greatest invention in web design and WordPress has an extensive collection of choices that will surely fit anyone’s taste. Themes allow us to express our personalities without any knowledge of HTML or PHP and create professional looking blogs by simply installing one theme. If interested, have a look at my post for “10 Best Web 2.0 WordPress Themes“.

  • Unfortunately not all themes created equal and skill level of designers behind the creations varies greatly. Implementing a new theme that is poorly coded can make a true mess out of your blog. Fear not my friend, I got you covered! See my post “How To Safely Redesign Your Blog” where I cover in details how you can test different theme on your production blog without anyone knowing it and once possibly modify new theme to fit your needs before implementing it on live blog.

With new year many bloggers simply decide to add some functionality to their existing theme, refresh existing look and perhaps do a few slight modifications. Perhaps one of the most common problems created during editing is missing tags.

  • Division tags if not closed properly can really screw up the entire layout of your blog. If you edited a file, make sure you didn’t remove any extra tags that actually supposed to be there. Stare and compare process against same file from backup should give you a good idea of what was missed.
  • PHP code not closed properly or removed is second most common problem. While we all like to experiment with code even when we don’t understand it – make sure you have a good backup first so you could go back to old version first.

Here are a few simple tricks I personally use when modifying any theme file…

  • Perform ALL editing in external editor that doesn’t introduce any extra code. While Windows Notepad can do the job – it is very limited in functionality and I prefer to use Crimson Editor, which is free download and will give you more options than you could wish for.
  • Edit file in multiple tabs. For example: copy original code into one tab and then use second tab to edit code. Once modification is done – test it on your blog, if something broken you cna always go back to previous version.
  • Do small changes, one at the time and save a working code version as separate document, worked under separate tab. This way you have a good version of every modification you have done as well as original and you can go back to ANY previously working version of the file. This provides you with maximum flexibility while editing your theme.

While most problems can be prevented by doing your homework before implementing any changes to your WordPress blog – those that can’t – CAN BE FIXED! I hope a few simple tricks I have shared above help you get through your problems and if you have your own ideas – please share them in comments for others to read!