The White Screen of Death: What to Do When Your WordPress Site Is Down

It’s every website owner’s worst nightmare – and it’s more common than you might think.

You visit your website, but all the content you worked so hard on is missing. Instead, you’re confronted with obscure, jargon-filled error messages, or worse: a blank, white screen with no clues to follow.

Recently, it happened to me. All of my websites suddenly wouldn’t load, displaying “connection timed out” errors instead. I admit I panicked a bit! But I was able to take steps to recover, and I’m continuing to take steps to prevent it from happening again.

Your site going down hurts, especially if you rely on it to earn your income. Every moment it’s down can cost you sales, leads, and revenue.

Are you facing a white screen of death, or worried about what to do when it happens to you? Then this post is for you.

Step 0: Make an Announcement

This is “step 0” because it’s not really a troubleshooting step, but it’s necessary nonetheless.

When your site is down, it’s crucial to keep your audience in the loop.

When a visitor goes to your site and it’s inaccessible, they get understandably frustrated. It’s your choice whether to relieve that frustration, or let it grow into anger.

If you keep in touch and explain to your audience what’s going on and when they can expect your website to be back, they’ll be much more patient and understanding.

If you don’t keep them in the loop, they may get angry at your brand, or decide to visit a competitor instead.

Good news is, it’s easy to prevent this. Just keep them in the loop by:

  • Making an announcement on social media. Keep it brief, but give your audience a clear idea of what’s happening and when they can expect you back.
  • Sending a quick email to your list if you think your site will be down for more than a day.
  • Placing a message on your website (if you’re able to). If your site is still up and you’re able to make changes to your WordPress dashboard, you use a plugin like Ultimate Coming Soon Page to display a maintenance page for your visitors so they don’t see a broken site.

Step 1: Analyze the Error

Take note of what error messages (if any) you’re getting, and take screenshots. These will be crucial to the troubleshooting process, whether you’re doing it yourself or seeking help from an expert.

Common errors you might see include:

  • Connection Timed Out: This is an error your browser might give you if it’s waiting too long to connect and get the necessary data to display your website. It might be caused by an issue with your internet connection, settings on your device (such as a firewall), your web hosting company, or your website itself. This happened to my website, and it turned out to be a temporary issue with my hosting company, Bluehost.
  • 404 Not Found: This happened to one of my websites after the outage. The homepage worked fine, but individual blog posts all seemed to be missing. It turned out that somehow my .htaccess file had been deleted during the site outage.
  • Server Not Found: This error could be caused by your internet connection, or by a problem with your web hosting or domain service. It’s rarely caused by a WordPress error in your themes or plugin files.
  • Blank White Screen: A blank white screen is tricky to troubleshoot because there’s no obvious information to go off of. It’s often caused by an issue with your site’s code, either in WordPress or a theme or plugin file.
  • Error Establishing a Database Connection: This is a very common WordPress error that’s often caused by a problem with the configuration of your wp-config file, such as a wrong database name or password. It can also be caused if your database server is unresponsive for some reason (a problem with your web host), or if your database has been corrupted.
  • Random Code Errors on Your Website: Your website might be displaying fine except that it’s displaying error codes in some pages or on your dashboard, such as “function not found,” or “unexpected end.” This could be caused by a plugin or theme, or by a corruption of your core WordPress files.

Make Sure It’s Not Just You

Hopefully it’s the case that everyone else can see your website just fine.

Make sure it’s not just your browser, your computer, or your internet connection:

  1. Clear your browser cache
  2. Check your site on DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com
  3. Visit your site using another browser
  4. Try using a different device (your smartphone, tablet, laptop)
  5. Use another internet connection (Wi-fi), or ask a friend to take a look at it

If your website displays fine on another browser, device, or internet connection, you’ve identified where the problem lies. You may have to get help fixing your device or connection, but at least your site is still up!

Step 2: Troubleshoot WordPress

If the problem isn’t with your devices or internet connection, it could be with your WordPress site.

Think back to any recent changes you’ve made. Have you recently:

  • Updated your core WordPress version
  • Changed any settings
  • Modified your functions.php file or any other files
  • Installed, uninstalled, or updated any themes or plugins

If you can, try reversing any recent changes, or restoring from a recent backup, to see if it resolves the issue.

How to Troubleshoot WordPress

For general WordPress troubleshooting, first try to log in to your WordPress dashboard. If you can’t, it may be a hosting issue, and not an issue with your site. However, you should still try the following troubleshooting steps via your hosting account or an FTP client. If you’re locked out, check out Vishnu’s post on Possible Reasons For Being Locked out of Your WP-Admin.

Next, try switching to the default WordPress theme to see if that resolves the issue.

If it doesn’t, then try disabling all your plugins to see if it resolves the issue. If it does, you can re-enable your plugins one by one to pinpoint which one is causing the issue.

If a theme or plugin is causing the issue, you can contact the developer for support, and use an alternate theme or plugin in the meantime.

How to Fix Database Corruption

Some WordPress issues are caused by a corrupted database. If you’re getting a database connection error, and you’re sure your login information in your wp-config file is correct, you can use a built-in WordPress function to attempt a database repair. Check out Lori’s post on Troubleshooting When Your WordPress Migration to a New Host Becomes a Nightmare for a step-by-step guide to repairing your database.

Step 3: Check Your Web Hosting

If you’ve logged into your hosting account and can’t find any issues, but your site is still down – or if you can’t access your hosting account at all – chances are, the issue is with your web host.

You can check out your host’s website and social media accounts to see if they’ve announced any difficulties. You may find out that they’re down for scheduled maintenance, and there may be information on when you can expect your site to be back up.

If not, the next step is to contact support. Depending on what type of support your web host offers, you may be able to call them or start a live chat to get immediate support, or you may have to file a support ticket.

When my site went down, I tried to get immediate support via live chat, but the wait times were stuck at 30 minutes, so I had to file a support ticket instead. When my support tickets went unanswered for several weeks, I knew it was time to switch hosts. While Bluehost used to provide a great service, I’d also noticed that my site speeds had become much slower than they used to be. Since I’ve been meaning to upgrade my hosting anyway, I decided to get VPS hosting with InMotion instead.

An Ounce of Prevention…

In order to recover quickly from a site outage, you need to be prepared before it happens. Make sure you have a good, reliable web hosting company and that you’re regularly backing up your site. Familiarize yourself with your web hosting support options so you know where to go if you need help in a hurry.

When the time comes, you’ll be prepared and be able to quickly recover when your site goes down.