What happens if you do not carry out maintenance on your website? Well, you might have to deal with the most common problem caused by poor website maintenance: the ‘White Screen of Death’. That sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it? You bet it is. Luckily, you can solve this problem and in this episode, I’m going to explain how. You’ll get answers to the following questions:
- What is it exactly? And what causes it?
- How do you solve it?
- How can you prevent this problem from reoccurring?
In the previous episode of this blog series, I explained the importance of regular website maintenance. You learned all about what you can do to prevent problems and to ensure optimal website performance. To help you along, I gave you a handy checklist for step by step maintenance of your website. Now, what will happen if you don’t carry out maintenance?
The White Screen of Death, what is it and what causes it?
First of all, what is a White Screen of Death (WSoD)? A WSoD is the situation that is created when there’s an error in the website software. As a result, your website will not be uploaded. This means it’s no longer visible and visitors of the corresponding domain see a white screen instead of the website. Hence the name. Depending on what browser visitors use, they may also see a notification, such as: HTTP ERROR 500.
What kind of errors are we dealing with? A WSoD is often caused by PHP code errors. PHP is a scripting language that enables web pages to be generated. So, it’s logical that an error like this will prevent the website from being uploaded properly. A WSoD can also occur when the memory limit of your website has been exceeded. However, the most common cause is an error in the WordPress theme or a plugin, which prevents the plugin from working in the theme. This is the case when the front-end of the website isn’t working but your WordPress dashboard is.
How do you solve a White Screen of Death?
If you still can’t access your dashboard, you can solve the problem by taking these 5 steps:
- Log in to the FTP-environment
- Go to the wp-content > plugins folder
- Rename the ‘Plugins’ folder. For example: old_plugins
Is the website working again and are you now able to access the dashboard? If so, you can be sure that one or more of the plugins are the cause. Now continue with Step 4.
- Give the plugin folder its original name: ‘Plugins’
- This will disactivate all of the plugins. Reactivate them one by one and see what happens.
When you’ve reactivated a plugin and the WSoD reappears, you can be sure that this is the plugin that’s causing the problem and isn’t working in the theme. Double-check by repeating these steps and when you get to Step 5, reactivate the plugin that’s not working first. If you still get a WSoD, it could be caused by a combination of this plugin and another plugin. These two are no longer compatible and need to be updated or replaced.
If the problem wasn’t caused by a plugin, it could have been caused by the theme. In this case, it will be trickier finding a solution. It involves switching to a standard WordPress theme to check if the website becomes visible again. I advise you not to do this yourself, but to contact a specialist instead. I can perform an analysis for you to find the underlying cause and solve the problem. And I can explain how to prevent the problem from reoccurring.
Make life easier with a maintenance plan
Now I mention it, let me remind you of what I said at the beginning of this episode. You can prevent most problems by carrying out regular maintenance. This means, among other things, carrying out all of the updates for the theme and the plugins, and optimizing the database. Instead of doing this yourself, you can also benefit from my maintenance plan. This lets you focus on your business while I make sure your website continues to perform optimally. In any case, you know what you have to do if there are problems and how to solve a WSoD.
Recap of ‘Create your own WordPress website in 7 steps’
We are now at the end of this ‘Create your own WordPress website in 7 steps’ blog series. Here’s a recap of the 7 steps.
Step 1 Start by defining the purpose of your website and which functions it needs. Once this is clear, you can choose the website software. If you choose WordPress, choose between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. I advise you to choose WordPress.org. To find out why, you can read episode 1 (again).
Step 2 If you’re going to use WordPress, choose a theme. It’s important to be aware of the website’s purpose here as well. Look for a theme on WordPress.org first. Choose a theme that provides the functions you need, that’s regularly updated and that you really like. Look beyond the design, because you can further develop the theme yourself according to your requirements.
Step 3 In order to further develop the theme – create the web design – you need to think about what kind of atmosphere you want. You can do this by sticking to your branding and the brand design that goes with it. Once you’ve applied the brand design, you can create the layout of the pages and add suitable media.
Step 4 For the search engine optimization of your website (SEO), you need to choose relevant keywords to include in your texts (2%). Use the most important keyword at the beginning of the text. Make sure you have suitable and concise meta titles and meta descriptions, and make an alt text for images that provide relevant information.
Step 5 Use the 5 keys to an appealing website. (1) Place unique and valuable content, (2) tell the story of your brand, (3) apply your brand design to the website, (4) make your website accessible, and (5) structure the web pages.
Step 6 Be sure to carry out regular website maintenance, using the website maintenance checklist. The most important steps in the checklist are: carry out updates for the theme and plugins, and replace plugins for which updates are no longer provided. Check once a week if your website is still working properly and see if there are any error notifications in the backend. Always make backups before and after making changes in the backend. Optimize the website database once a month. And make sure your website is protected against spam and viruses.
Step 7 If you’re confronted with a White Screen of Death despite regular maintenance, see if you can access the dashboard. If not, deactivate the plugins folder in the backend, using ftp. Once you’ve accessed the dashboard, reactivate the plugins one by one to find out which plugin is causing problems. Subsequently, you can solve the problem by updating or replacing the plugin. If doesn’t work or the plugins have always worked and are up to date, then there is a more serious cause. In this case, you’d be better off hiring me for a one-time fix.