What to do when your site goes down

Your site is down. It was fine yesterday. Is it the host company’s fault?

Most people think automatically, “yes”. And most host companies do little to help this misconception.

This is what will happen when the sites slows down, gets a 404 or a 500 error. Or a blank screen of death:

Client: MY SITE IS DOWN!!!

Host CSR (customer service representative): Let me have a look into that for you.

Host CSR: It looks like your site is causing strain on our server. We’ve had to install a block so that your site doesn’t crash the whole server. You’ll have to fix the errors before I can remove the block on your server.

Client: WHAT? How do I do that?

Host CSR: We can’t advise on fixing the software on the server.

So what do you do now?

These are the basics you need to know:

  • the host company is responsible for making sure that the server runs properly and can run your WordPress site.
  • you (or your techie) are responsible to make sure your site is running properly
  • email and analytics and other domains (DNS) are not part of this equation

a) If the server/software is fine:

If the host says that the server is running fine. Turn to your techie person to look at your site. They can use tools to help diagnose the problem.

  • debug bar – check memory footprint and table memory usage
  • P3 plugin profiler
  • tools.pingdom.com
  • GTMetric.com
  • sucuri.net

Using these tools, common recommendations will be:

  • clean the site of malware
  • update all plugins, themes, and WordPress
  • remove or replace the ‘related content’ plugin
  • remove or replace stats plugins
  • remove or replace sharing plugins
  • remove all plugins and re-install one by one to find the culprit
  • remove or replace all un-supported and old plugins

b) if the host’s server IS the problem:

If the host says that they’re having issues with their software, you will often have to wait while they reboot the server. Just like rebooting your computer – it can solve some problems. In any case, reputable hosting companies will tell you that they are experiencing problems and get back to you when it’s fixed.

This shouldn’t happen very often. These are super-hero computers run by administrators that get paid a fortune for their skills. I wouldn’t expect perfection but glitches should be the exception. My guideline is a couple times a year.

If your site is being actively blocked by your host company:

  • check your bandwidth usage against your purchased plan
  • check your memory usage against your purchased plan
  • check your processor power (you’ll need to speak to the host about this)
  • check the configuration between the server and the SQL server (the host is the only one that will be able to do this)

Common recommendations will be:

  • add a CDN and make use of caching(W3 Total Cache) to reduce bandwidth and/or upgrade your plan
  • optimize images and scripts
  • reduce plugins and ads to reduce bandwidth/ memory/processing
  • If they have no specialized configuration for WordPress (this is the SQL and Server part) move to a different hosting company*.

Actively blocked sites, moved to another similar host with a similar plan, are likely to be blocked by that company too. Find the root cause before deciding to switch hosts. 

A case study in persistent down time

To be honest, this post is born out of a consistent use of WebSynthesis‘ support team. They have been working with me (on behalf of my client) for months. This one site in particular, had stumped me over and over. It was having site issues. We re-wrote the theme in Genesis; streamlined and removed many plugins. Still the downtime persisted.

Synthesis support found more plugins that were using 100% of the processor and thus, bringing down the server. So we removed those plugins. Still the downtime persisted. Their support team then diagnosed a landing page memory footprint problem. So I fix those problems, and another problem becomes apparent!

Unfortunately this makes Synthesis look like the problem. After all, it is their server going down! 

My client puts it this way – “Its like going to the mechanic, he says ‘fix this for $xx’ so I do it. And then he says, ‘You need to do more.’ – over and over again.” 

I completely agree. I used to compare my job to a mechanic as well. But now I think I need to change that analogy to a Contractor – for renovations. You know how renovations are always more expensive than they at first seem? Once you tear down that bathroom wall and see the mould, all of the sudden the job gets bigger? That is what has been happening on this site.

Does that mean the host is incompetent? Or that I’m incompetent? I don’t think so. It is their server going down, but it is my clients site doing the damage.

Will the problems be solved by moving hosts?

Very rarely is the host company the one to blame for your slow-loading site.

Will moving hosts fix your sites issues? Only if the issues are caused by the hosting company. 


*I recommend WP Engine