8 Server Issues That Affect WordPress (and What to Do About Them)

8 Server Issues That Affect WordPress (and What to Do About Them)

We always have such a laser-trained focus on our WordPress site that sometimes it’s easy to forget that problems with it may not stem from conflicting plugins, a hacked login, or a bloated theme. Sometimes it’s the underlying web server that’s at fault.

In my experience, web hosting companies aren’t always the easiest to work with when something goes awry on your site. Sometimes it’s because you’re on a really cheap plan and they just don’t provide support for it. Sometimes their support team is not qualified to handle the issues you face. And, unfortunately, sometimes you find yourself working with a dishonest company that doesn’t want to admit that their server outages are due to a faulty infrastructure.

Regardless of what’s going on, you need to fix those issues on your site right away. Visitors aren’t going to be understanding of a slow site, an unresponsive site, a non-existent site, or a clearly compromised site, even if they know the underlying issue was with the server. You entrusted your website to that web hosting provider, and so the blame will ultimately fall on you.

The key to resolving these server issues quickly is to understand what kinds of issues may arise from the underlying server technology. By understanding the source of the problem, you can more confidently and efficiently handle these issues with your web hosting provider.

8 Server Issues That Could Affect Your WordPress Site

It’s frustrating to think that, despite all your hard work to optimize your WordPress site for performance and to harden it against malicious breaches, something bad could still happen to it. And, worse, the issue might have nothing to do with any action you’ve taken, but your client still takes his or her frustrations out on you because they expect you to be the all-knowing WordPress master.

Server issues are tricky like that. You spend all this time looking into your WordPress and database configuration, even going so far as to poke around the plugins and themes, but you come up short. You realize the issue is with the server… so what do you do? Do you simply tell your client to contact the hosting company to resolve the issue? Or do you step in and help them resolve it?

Ideally, you’ll work in conjunction with your client and the web hosting provider to get the problem fixed. However, as I mentioned before, web hosting support isn’t always the best. So you need to come prepared.

Below you will find some common and not-so-common problems that may arise on your WordPress site. While some of these do have potential front-end fixes you can try, others will require assistance from the web hosting company.

1. Pages are loading way… too… slowly.

Let’s say you’ve done absolutely everything you could do to speed up WordPress. If you’ve confirmed that it’s not your internet connection causing the slow-loading times on your end (which you can do with a speed testing tool), it’s time to look at the server.

First, start by checking the server status of the web hosting company. While any issues reported here will usually lead to your website going down altogether, it’s still good to check. Most web hosting companies will include a page called “Server Status”:

Server issues - Server Status
Server Status page from Bluehost.

Or “System Status”:

Server issues - System Status
System Status page from DreamHost.

If there’s anything wrong with the servers, you’ll find the information here. The nice thing about Bluehost is that they allow you to check your specific domain’s server for issues. If your site sits on a Bluehost shared server, be sure to use this tool.

If this is the cause of the slow speeds, contact your web host immediately to find out when the issue will be resolved. If there is a pattern of these types of slow-downs, talk to one of the support representatives to see if it’s something on a neighbor website affecting yours. If that’s the case, it may be time to upgrade to cloud hosting or VPS.

If there isn’t an issue with downtime, you should check to see what’s happening with your server bandwidth. If your site is experiencing a traffic spike and you’re otherwise already prepared to handle it, bandwidth limitations may be the issue.

Within your hosting account, there should be a widget related to server settings or performance.

Server issues - Bandwidth Server Management
Check in your control panel for overages in bandwidth.

Drill down into the bandwidth monitoring system and take note of any major traffic surges.

Server issues - Bandwidth Data
Use the data to determine if bandwidth is the problem on your WordPress site.

If the repeatedly high hits of traffic are taking a toll on your site’s ability to stay up or load quickly enough, an upgrade in hosting plan or transfer to a new type is probably in order.

2. Not receiving email.

With many web hosting plans, you’ll have the ability to create email addresses branded to your web domain. For instance, if your website were called www.macncheeseplease.com, then you might want to create emails for [email protected] and [email protected] to go with it.

However, what do you do if you’ve connected all your contact forms to those emails and even published the email addresses to the WordPress site, but nothing is coming through? Supposing your visitors are copying-and-pasting your email into the “To:” field and that you typed in your email address correctly on the backend of the form, it’s time to start troubleshooting.

First, send yourself a message to that email address using another one of your aliases. In fact, have a few other people do the same. If no one receives a message about the inbox being full, then there isn’t an issue with maxed-out server space.

Next, if you’re forwarding messages from your hosting email to another account, verify that the problem isn’t with how you configured the forwarding.

Server issues - Email Configuration
Make sure your hosting email is connected to whichever provider you use to monitor for messages.

In your email app’s settings, you should find a section dedicated to email accounts and forwarding. Be sure your hosting email is listed there. If it is, then it’s time to log into your hosting account.

Navigate to the email management tool in your hosting account. From there, you can open your inbox and confirm that emails are coming through. If they’re not, then the issue is with the configuration, which means you need to contact your web host to ask them to look into the issue.

3. Updates not reflected on the site.

Caching of your WordPress site seems like such an easy thing to implement and get a handle on what with the many WordPress caching plugins available.

But let’s say you already have a caching plugin installed and configured. You’ve tried clearing your browser. You’ve opened your site from a different browser and device, too. You’ve even tried deleting your entire browsing data, cookies, and history. Still, the changes you’ve made to your site aren’t showing on the front end. What’s going on here?

Your cache_temp folder may be working improperly or it could be something else entirely on the web hosting side. If it’s a server-side caching problem, you’ll need to reach out to hosting support for assistance.

4. “Server does not exist.”

If you (or your visitors) are seeing a blank page with a message that says “Server does not exist”, immediately log into your web hosting account.

This kind of error message is usually indicative of some sort of suspension of your account. Maybe the domain name or hosting plan wasn’t renewed, maybe bandwidth and storage were regularly exceeded past the plan’s limitations, or maybe the hosting provider decided to suspend the account for another reason. Whatever happened, you need to contact them immediately to get the site back online.

5. “Error establishing database connection.”

Technically, you’re responsible for issues that occur within your site’s database. However, there are instances when this error may show up on the front end of your site and is unrelated to anything you’ve done.

First, confirm that the information in your wp-config.php file is correct. Specifically, look at the username, password, and hostname fields. If anything is incorrect there, update, save, and check your site.

When there’s a noted database connection error, but everything looks fine in the wp-config, there are typically two other reasons why this may be happening.

The first, is that your site has been breached. So, your next step should be to run a security scan. If you have a WPMU DEV membership, you can run this scan using WP Checkup. If not, then you can use one of these free security scanning tools.

If there’s no detected breach, contact your web host. Similar to issue #4, the provider may have taken it upon themselves to temporarily disable your database due to excessive use or some other contractual infringement. There may also be issues with their server that they’ve yet to report to users. Reaching out is the only way to confirm what’s going on.

6. Memory exhausted error.

When this error occurs, you’ll either receive the white screen of death (ugh) or you’ll see a “fatal error” that details how much of the memory size was exhausted. This usually happens directly after you try to install a WordPress plugin or theme file that exceeds the allowable limit.

If you see this error, the fix is pretty straightforward. First, revert your site back to how it was before you tried to upload the plugin or theme. Next, increase the default PHP memory limit if you want to try that step again.

To do this, log into your control panel account and navigate to your file manager or FTP. Open the wp-config.php file and then add the following code so as to increase the memory limit:

define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '64M');

If you attempt the installation of the plugin or theme again and see the same error, you may need to increase the memory limit by editing the php.ini. As the WordPress Codex suggests, this is something you should have the web host do.

7. Maximum execution time exceeded error.

This is similar to how default memory limits can cause WordPress to “break” when you exceed them. In this case, if you see an error telling you that it’s taking too long to complete a requested task, then you should increase the execution time on the backend.

In your file manager, open your .htaccess file for editing. This file is typically hidden from view, so make sure to “unhide” all hidden files before opening your cPanel.

Next, save a copy of the .htaccess file. Click on Edit and add the following line into the file:

php_value max_execution_time 60

In doing this, you’ll give the server a little more time to process the requested task. If that still doesn’t work, then you should reach out to your web hosting provider. There may be something else they can do on their end–like edit the limits in the php.ini–to accommodate the request.

8. “Internal Server Error.”

Although this error tells you that the issue is related to the web server, the fault doesn’t always lie with the underlying technology. This error could also show if you install a corrupt plugin or theme. If you suspect that’s the case, I would suggest you run through the plugin conflict resolution process.

If your plugins and theme aren’t the issue, then it’s related to the default server setup. This one you should be able to fix on your own.

First, check the PHP memory limit. If you’ve completed the fix in Step #6 and the internal server issue still appears, it’s time to look at the .htaccess file.

In this situation, there’s no line of code you can add to repair the server. Instead, what you need to do is replace the file entirely as it might be a corruption of .htaccess causing the problem.

To do this, go into your file manager or FTP and locate the file. Rename it as “.htaccess old”. If the error no longer appears in WordPress, then there’s one more step to take.

Go to the Settings tab in WordPress and locate the Permalinks. Any time you make changes to this settings page–even if all you do is click the “Save” button–your server automatically resets the .htaccess file.

Server issues - Permalinks Save
Any time you “Save” this page, you automatically refresh the .htaccess file.

So, click that “Save” button and then you should be good to go.

If the .htaccess rewrite wasn’t the fix you needed, then there’s one more thing you can try before contacting the web host. Basically, you need to take your main server files back to the original install state. Specifically, you need to replace wp-includes and wp-admin.

Go to the WordPress website and download a fresh install of WordPress.

Server issues - Download WordPress
You can grab a fresh copy of the files you need from WordPress.

Unzip the file and locate the wp-includes and wp-admin folders.

Server issues - WordPress Folders
These are the two folders that you’ll need to copy onto your server.

Then return to your file manager. From here, you can upload the original WordPress folders for wp-includes and wp-admin. Effectively, this erases whatever corruption may have existed in the latest version of your files.

Server issues - Replace Server Files
Look for the two folders in your file manager and then replace them with the new ones from WordPress.

Once you’ve replaced them, log out and return to WordPress. If you’re continuing to see the internal server error even after refreshing your screen, contact your web host for further assistance.

Wrapping Up

It sucks when something goes wrong in WordPress. It sucks, even more, when your clients are screaming at you to fix it, but you’re pretty sure the problem is beyond your control.

Hopefully, the server issues above will give you a better idea of what may be going on behind the scenes. And, if the suggested fixes don’t work, you’ll at least have a good idea of what to tell the web host when you reach out. You might not be able to fix it, but you’ll have the knowledge to help get it done quickly.

Suzanne Scacca
Have you ever encountered an error that both you and the web hosting provider were absolutely baffled by? What happened as a result?