Every so often we look at our websites and decide they need some freshening up. They don’t necessarily need a complete overhaul, usually it’s the little things that make the biggest impact, like putting up new curtains in a room or adding some colorful throw pillows.
Plugins help us make these little changes quickly and easily.
What Is a Plugin?
WordPress sites have a feature called “Plugins”. These are little apps that you add to your site that can increase the functionality of your site without you having to write tons of code to get what you want. A plugin could be as simple as adding social network buttons to your sidebar or as complex as adding a shopping cart to your site.
If you go into your WordPress (WP) dashboard and look at the menu on the left hand side, there’s a link called “Plugins”. Click on that and you’ll go to the full listing of all the plugins installed on your site.
Click on the “Add New” and you’re taken to another screen where you can search for the type of plugin you want and then upload and install it.
When Good Plugins Go Bad
On the surface, yes, it’s easy, but plugins also have the ability to take down your whole site with just a click if they’re not compatible with your theme or another plugin. This is called a conflict.
Conflicts can be scary, as one of our clients recently discovered. She installed a number of new plugins and one of them crashed her entire site. What followed was a panicked call to the hosting service. The hosting service was great, they helped restore the site, but when it came back up, the site had reverted to a default theme and she thought all was lost.
There’s Always Hope
Usually, when something goes wrong, our clients contact us immediately, but in this case, our client thought I wasn’t available and contacted her hosting service. When the hosting company fixed the site, they renamed the plugin folder on the server to “plugins-old”. This instantly deactivated all of the plugins and brought the site back up. But then none of the plugins required to make her site function were active and a default theme was showing.
I was away, house sitting, but I had come back to my house when she pinged me. She told me what happened and I knew right away the fix wasn’t complicated.
I reset the theme to the custom one we did for her, then re-installed the missing plugins and activated them and she was on her way in under five minutes.
So, what exactly happened here?
Three Easy Tips to Keep Your Plugins In Line
Plugins are like weeds if you let them get out of control. Some people have a habit of adding them without paying attention to what they’re adding. They may be trying to find one that works the way they want it to and may install several until they find the one that works—and then forget what they’ve added, activated or deactivated, or deleted entirely. Or they try updating a bunch of outdated plugins all at once and don’t know which one is causing the conflict.
In most cases, a site crashes when a plugin has a conflict with another plugin.
Tip #1: Never use the Bulk filter to update or activate a bunch of plugins all at once. The trick here is to stay in control by being methodical in your approach. Do your updates one by one. Activate your plugins one by one. Is it tedious? Yes. Is it a time saver in the long run? Absolutely. This way if the site crashes you’ll know exactly which plugin caused the problem (and I’ll teach you how to fix that below).
Tip #2: Do your research. Before you install a plugin, do some poking around. In every search for a plugin you’ll have the opportunity to view a plugin’s details. Check out the ratings, check out the reviews. How long has it been since the developer has done an update? Is the developer accessible? Has the plugin been tested with your version of WordPress?
Tip #3: Make a backup of your site before you start experimenting. Also keep track of what plugins you’re installing. Write the names down so you have them and can find them later.
How To Fix a Plugin Crash
First and foremost, don’t panic. Your site is still there. You may not be able to access it in the browser, but it’s all still there on the server. Now here’s where it gets a little technical. You’ll have to log into your hosting Cpanel. This is the back end in your hosting account on InMotion, GoDaddy, BlueHost or whatever service you’re using for self-hosting.
Each cpanel is going to be a little different, but they all have the same areas in common. The folder you want is called “public-html”. This is where all your WP folders and files are stored.
- Go in there and navigate to the plugin folder by going to public-html>wp-content>plugins.
- If you have more than one site on your host it may be something like public-html>yoursitefolder>wp-content>plugins.
- Look at the files and find the name of the plugin you most recently added or updated.
- Delete it.
This will remove the problem plugin from your site and get rid of the conflict. Then you’ll be able to get back into your WP dashboard and try again with a different plugin.
If you’re uncomfortable poking around in your cpanel, call your hosting tech support. Tell them what you’ve uploaded and that you need that plugin(s) deleted. They should be able to do it for you. If you don’t remember what you added or updated, the hosting company will rename the whole plugin folder to deactivate all your plugins and you’ll have to start from scratch adding each one again one by one.
Deactivating plugins one by one is helpful if you suddenly find a glitch happening on your site. A website may not totally crash every time there’s a conflict. If this is the case, you can go into your plugin screen and deactivate all the plugins, then activate them one by one until you find the one causing the problem.
Updates are everything. Whether it’s a plugin or the overall WordPress install, stay on top of your updates. Don’t let them pile up or let too many versions pass by before you decide to update. When you do them right away you greatly reduce the chances of a crash and conflicts.
Updates have come a long way over the years and they’re not as scary as they used to be. And don’t feel bad, I still have moments of anxiety when it comes to updates too, especially when I go to a client site where they haven’t been done in forever because I have no idea what’s going to happen.
That’s when I stick to procedure. I’ll make a backup, offer a little prayer to the Tech Goddess and then dig in with updating each section one by one.
And if you run into something you can’t fix? There’s always help. Your web designer and your hosting customer service is always your first line of defense. Call us, that’s why we’re here. There are also many resources available. If you have a Genesis Theme, Studio Press has excellent forums with tons of answers, WordPress.org also has help forums. As a last resort, when all else fails, Google it. The answers are out there.
But definitely call us first. Chances are the fix is as easy as deleting a plugin and you’ll be back in business in less than five minutes.
Did you find this post helpful? Share it! Would you like to know how to use your Cpanel or WordPress dashboard? Contact Deb for a one on one training session, customized just for you! For more tips and info, sign up for our weekly newsletter Around the Studio.