11 Ways to Prevent Errors on Your WordPress Site

Running a WordPress site can be a total drag.

At it’s worst, you repeatedly discover things that aren’t working as they’re supposed to. Furthermore, the features that break used to work perfectly fine. Why does this happen?

The truth is, not everyone has these problems with WordPress.

In this guide, you’ll find actionable steps you can take to reduce the number of errors and bad surprises you discover on your website, so you can peacefully create content and work on your site without interruption.

Here are 11 tactics you can use to prevent future errors on your website.

1. Use a strict update procedure

I sometimes get emails from customers who are confused about why something is suddenly different on their website. They act as if the site magically changed on its own, but that’s simply not how code works.

Every time this happens, the reality is that they added a new plugin or updated a product on their site and didn’t notice the error until days later, and have since forgotten entirely what they did.

You can avoid this from happening to your website if you follow a strict update procedure.

The update procedure

The very first thing you should do is to backup your website.

No matter what happens after your updates, you can always restore a backup from before the plugin/theme updates. There’s no risk of breaking your site this way.

Next, visit the Dashboard > Updates page so you can see all of your site’s outstanding updates at once.

Wordpress Updates Menu
You’ll see updates for plugins, themes, and WordPress core on this page.

For each plugin/theme update, note the version number you’re currently using VS the update, and then click the changelog link which will open a popup window.

Plugin Versions
Your version number is on the left. The changelog link is on the right.

Take a quick look over all the changes between the version you’re using and the latest version. You don’t need to laboriously read the whole thing. Just skim for anything that stands out – any changes you think might be problematic for your site.

Plugin Changelog
Here’s an example changelog

After you’ve reviewed each update in this way, you can bulk update all plugins at once using the checkbox at the top and the Update Plugins button.

Bulk Update Plugins

At this point, you’ve backed up your site and updated your plugins/themes. The last thing you need to do is to take a quick look at your site and check for any new errors.

This is why the changelog review is so important – it helps you direct your review so you don’t have to test every feature of your site. For instance, there’s no need to test a plugin you didn’t even update, but you might want to specifically test one feature in a plugin you updated.

Besides doing a quick test of any updated plugins, you’ll want to test the following on your site:

  • Visit a post and make sure it looks & works the same
  • Repeat for a page
  • Test your mobile menu
  • Test your post editor (and try saving)

To test your mobile menu, just resize your browser window and click the mobile menu button so you don’t have to visit on your phone. This is an important test because if the mobile menu works, you know your site doesn’t have any Javascript errors. It’s a nice health checkup for your site that doesn’t require any technical tools 😉

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How long does this take?

This might seem like a lot of work. Maybe you’re even wondering about WordPress alternatives with all the work required to maintain your site.

Here’s the deal.

The entire process should only take you about 10 minutes in total. Also, you don’t have to do it that often.

I don’t use a precise schedule for updates, but I’d say I update plugins on this website about every 3-4 weeks. And that brings me to my next point.

You can update all plugins at once and do a full site review, or update them one at a time as the updates become available. It takes less total time to bulk check which is why I do it that way, but either approach is fine.

2. Use the best tools

The reliability of your site basically depends on which theme, plugins, and hosting you choose.

Bugs in WordPress itself are extremely rare, so WP is never going to be the problem. Every time something on your site breaks, you can trust that it’s due to a theme, plugin, or sometimes, your hosting.

The takeaway?

If you only use high-quality, professional made and maintained software, your site rarely experiences bugs.

Here’s a collection of my favorite WordPress tools most of which are being used on this website right now and continue to prove themselves reliable.

On the contrary, if you use tons of buggy plugins, your site is going to be a nightmare to manage.

Do yourself a favor and only use reliable products on your site. Combined with the review process above, you should experience very few issues going forward.

3. Schedule automatic full-site backups

Running a website without regular backups is nothing short of crazy.

I don’t mean to sound like a fearmonger, but here’s the situation…

If your site gets hacked or if something happens to your server, you can potentially lose your website.

Your website’s settings and design are one thing, but losing all the posts you’ve written would be a disaster.

If you don’t already backup your website, follow the steps outlined here.

There are completely free plugins that will automatically backup your site every single day. There’s no reason not to do this.

Backing up your files will save your themes, plugins, and media items, but it’s even more important to backup your database which is where all of your post content and theme/plugin settings are saved.

Once you have daily backups scheduled, you’ll have the peace of mind that no matter what happens, you’ll never lose more than the last 24hrs of changes to your site which is very manageable.

You can find more solutions in our collection of the best backup plugins for WordPress.

4. Always update plugins & themes before WordPress

As I write this, WordPress 5.4 is nearly live, so here’s a quick tip to keep your site running smoothly.

Always update the plugins and themes on your site before updating WordPress to a new version.

WordPress puts out “release candidates” weeks before the public release, so developers can test their products. Now imagine a theme developer finds a feature in their theme that doesn’t work with the upcoming 5.4 version of WP. The developer will write an update and then release it before 5.4 comes out.

Now if you, the site owner, update WordPress first and then don’t update the theme, your site is going to have the broken feature despite the fact that it has already been patched.

The point is, when you’re updating to a new version of WordPress, you should always install all available plugin and theme updates. For completely uninterrupted service, update all of the plugins and themes first since they’re pre-patched for the WP update.

5. Never touch theme or plugin files

Unless you’re a developer and know what you’re doing, never edit the files in your theme or plugins via the Appearance > Editor or Plugins > Editor menus.

A single mistake in a PHP file like a misplaced letter can completely break your website (both front-end and back-end).

6. Choose a homepage and Posts page

In the Reading settings menu, you’ll probably recognize this option for setting a static homepage:

Fill Out Reading Settings

If you use the static homepage option, make sure to set both the Homepage and Posts page settings. Switching to this option and then leaving one or both fields empty can cause unexpected behavior with themes and plugins.

I have helped customers through 404 errors more than a few times and it’s almost always due to permalink settings. More often than not, there’s a custom permalink structure that isn’t set up properly.

The best practice is to use the “Post name” setting for your permalinks.

Permalink Settings

If you prefer another setting, that is okay, but try to avoid using a completely custom structure unless you really know what you’re doing.

8. Try new things on a staging site

Want to try out something new?

Use a staging site!

A staging site is an exact replica of your website except no one knows about it but you. This means you can change themes, test out plugins, and generally make a big mess without affecting your real website and visitors.

Even better, if you make changes you want to keep, most staging sites let you copy your edits to the live website with just a few clicks.

You can follow this staging site guide to get started.

9. Make sure your email address is correct

Visit the General settings menu and you’ll find this field with the admin email.

Site Admin Email

Make sure the email address is spelled correctly and is an address you use frequently so you’ll receive important messages from your site.

10. Keep WordPress up-to-date

You don’t have to update WordPress the moment a new version comes out.

In fact, it’s probably best if you wait a week or two until a minor version is released with bug fixes.

But it’s extremely important that you don’t delay WordPress updates for more than a month or two. Some websites put off WP updates for years and they become vulnerable to hackers. Here’s how it works…

The WordPress source code is public. That means that when they update the platform with a security patch, everyone now knows about the previous vulnerability. Get it? They can’t patch a vulnerability without letting everyone know about its existence. This wouldn’t be an issue except that not everyone updates to the newest version of WordPress right away.

Most WordPress hackers are not like the computer genius characters you see in movies. In fact, they literally copy-and-paste pre-written hacks they find on security/hacking forums to hack your website. Honestly, you could do it too, so don’t make it easy for them and keep your WordPress site up-to-date.

11. Check the Site Health menu

To help users keep their sites secure and running smoothly, WordPress added a new Site Health menu in version 5.2.

Site Health Menu
This page is available under the Tools menu

The Site Health page includes prompts to help you follow best practices. It will remind you to update themes, delete inactive plugins, and update your site’s PHP version amongst other things.

The first 10 tactics listed here should be enough to keep your website running reliably, but the Site Health menu makes it easier to catch things you might otherwise overlook.

WordPress without the hassle

It really saddens me how much trouble people have with WordPress.

There’s a lot to learn, but most of the pains people deal with come from not following the tactics outlined above.

If you want to run your website like a professional and avoid the hassles that plague so many other users, follow the 11 tactics listed here. I can honestly tell you that I rarely experience problems with my websites, and it’s because I do all of these things.

Maybe this isn’t the “build a site in one-click” simplicity we were lead to expect, but you certainly don’t have to live with a buggy, unreliable website.

If this post helped you out today or if you know someone else who would enjoy it, please share it before you go.

Thanks for reading!

Ben Sibley
Ben Sibley is a WordPress theme designer & developer, and founder of Compete Themes.

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