INSIGHT: How this business owner crashed their WordPress website

This business owner crashed their WordPress website trying to do their own updates. I explain how this could have been avoided.

How should a business owner update their website?
Summary

Let’s be honest, so many business owners want to save money & try and do things themselves. Although performing a WordPress website update is not as simple as it seems & should really be done by someone with digital marketing experience.

In this article I’ll explain the experience one of my clients had when they tried to do things on their own & crashed their website. They had declined paying for monthly digital marketing support, but their actions led to a site that wouldn’t load, potentially costing them thousands in lost revenue – this was even after repeated warnings.

Most of the websites throughout the world are built using the WordPress platform because it is open source and full of plugins and services that can be used to help developers build websites. In terms of WordPress’ downsides you’ll need to update those elements in order to deliver a high level of security, maintain your website’s integrity and to ensure the latest features are available when making changes to your site.

Although, the WordPress environment has no moderation or control over it, unlike the Apple iOS operating system. As a result, it means that practically anyone can create an application or a plugin, and some of these can sometimes have adverse effects on a website’s performance. It is important to note that even though it may seem simple to click on “Update”, it can cause a WordPress website to crash if you do so without the proper due diligence or understanding.

That is the benefit of engaging a local digital marketing consultant to take care of that for you – read on to see what happened to this business owner. 

 

Can you crash your website trying to do wordpress updates?

A WordPress website can become unstable if plugins are not compatible.

Yes you can crash a website by doing updates – I know, I’ve done it myself even though I am a digital marketing expert. Pressing that tiny update button looks tempting, it seems so simple & we are used to doing it on our phones or other devices. Although when it comes to website coding, WordPress plugins & the millions of combinations available, pressing those buttons can can cause all types of unknown results, but first, a bit of context to the situation.

Managing your own website
I was engaged by this small business owner to build a new website for their brand, they needed help with their digital marketing activities to grow their sales. Their old site was built using WordPress but had a completely custom made structure that didn’t make it easy for the owner change or update apart from headings and some text blocks. Website design agencies or contractors will sometimes do this to protect the business owner from breaking the site. It also means you are ‘tied’ to them to make changes as most of the time they will require re-coding. Part of their brief for the new website to be designed was the ability to make their own changes so they could promote their range of services as they evolved over time.

As a digital marketing consultant this is a very common brief and I was able to build a new website using WordPress as the CMS that was managed with the world leading Elementor page building tool.  This makes it easy for the business owner to edit the pages on the site to update products or service offerings. The interface is very similar to using Word or Powerpoint with a visual representation of the site & no coding is required for most things. Using something like Elementor can also save money by not needing to hire a website developers to create custom code or new page content.



Updating website text
Generally speaking adding or adjusting text on a website page is a relatively straight forward task for any person to complete. WordPress, Wix, Shopify or even the free builder tools from website hosts will all work the same way. You log in, choose the page, type the new text & then publish it. 

Although depending on what gets changed it may adversely effect a site’s on page SEO by removing certain pieces of content, phrases or headings that give it context or relevance. Therefore the money saved by a business owner doing it themselves can cost them later in lost visitor traffic. Sometimes you won’t see this impact for week or months later.



Updating, adding or removing plugins
WordPress has millions of plugins available that have been created by developers around the world. Some of these are written by students while others have been created by global companies so this means there is a wide variation in quality, reliability & trustworthiness for each tool. 

While it is relatively easy to update, change, add or remove plugins this process can have severe consequences depending on the choices made. What makes this process difficult to manage is that different combinations can deliver different results, there could be conflicts between plugins that deliver unexpected outcomes. Unfortunately none of this is predictable unless it is a widespread issue that many people are talking about on the internet in forums or groups.

That is why it is a lot more sensible to contract someone with digital marketing expertise as they may already know what the pitfalls are. By doing it yourself you run the risk of causing issues & not knowing how to rectify them.

 

Updating a theme or page building tool
Putting plugins aside, the other complex area to deal with is your WordPress theme and page building tool. Some WordPress themes will control or manage many of a site’s functions like the layout, different customisations & settings. A page building tool can sometimes manage all of these aspects or even override the theme’s functionality. 

Either way, any updates or changes made to either of these two elements can also create unusual outcomes, including the site not loading correctly.

In conclusion, there is a myriad of variables that can be encountered by a business owner & they have to consider carefully if they want to take the risk of doing an update themselves. The combination of website platform, theme, page builder & plug in variables are hard to juggle. I’ll explain below how this small business owner tried to do it themselves & it crashed their website immediately which impacted their ability to earn an income. 

So while they were attempting to save money by doing it themselves & ‘learn’ about their website, they put their business at risk. 

How can a digital marketing expert help you avoid problems?

  • Website back up; every business owner should make sure there is a back up of their website available. Some hosting companies will include this in their service, others may provide it as an extra cost. The other alternative is to use a WordPress back up plugin or doing it manually so that you have a copy of your site before you make any changes.

    Before an attempt is made to perform website updates a backup should be made and in this example, the business owner didn’t do that, they blindly started trying to change things without anything to revert to. Luckily when I had set up the site I enabled automatic backups to be made by their website host (their previous digital marketing contractor didn’t do this).

    Fortunately, this meant time and money was saved by not needing to troubleshoot the issue, instead they could revert to a backup to quickly resolve the website crash.

 
 
  • Plug in usage; it wasn’t clear why the owner decided to change plugins but it was evident that the correct due diligence wasn’t carried out to ensure which ones were most suitable for use or why they were needed in the first place. The site had been operating quite well for many months.

    Most likely the business owner read a blog post about new plugins or received advice from a friend & decided to try for themselves. In this example Nitro Pack was installed but when I checked the reviews online for this tool, it raised a number of concerns as to whether this was a good choice.

 
 
 
 
  • Testing or staging site; some website hosts have the option of cloning a site to create a test or staging version. This lets you try different things on your site to see how they work instead of using your live production site. Once you are happy with all the changes the clone can be copied over the live site.

    This business owner had their size hosted with Crazy Domains who have this as part of their hosting package. Unfortunately the business owner didn’t take this step even thought it is the safest way to ensure everything is working correctly & doesn’t disrupt the functioning site.

 
 
  • Making changes for the sake of it; while it is important to keep your website up to date to maintain a high level of security and performance there can be some situations where it may be more important to focus on other areas. For this example the site was working well, it was enjoying year on year visitor growth & all the elements were functioning well. So making changes may not deliver any immediate benefits and in this case, it led to the site crashing completely.

    Sometimes business owners are guilty of chasing the nice flashy object rather than concentrating on the things that will add real value to their business.

 
 
 
  • Not using professional help; every business owner should always consider the primary skill sets either they or their staff have so they can deploy the right level of expertise to run their business. Most owners are not digital marketing experts therefore it doesn’t make sense to spend time making website adjustments without the knowledge or experience to correct them if something goes wrong.

    The money saved on hiring external help is then lost in a decline of productivity & in this case, the website crashed which is their primary revenue creating platform other than referrals. Therefore it doesn’t make commercial sense to try do it yourself.

 
 
 
  • Clarity on business priorities; this business owner decided not to opt for a monthly website maintenance package or any marketing development. Their business offered a number of different services in very competitive market segments, so in essence each vertical needs its own marketing activities to generate awareness & help the business getting found.

    From its launch in November 2020 there wasn’t any additional content, information or examples of completed work added to the site – not even social media posts.

    So when you start to consider where or how time should be spent on developing the business, updating plugins probably isn’t one of them. With thousands of businesses in the local area offering similar services it becomes more important to compete locally and get your brand found online.

    Below is an example of two businesses and the difference that ongoing development can deliver.

What are the right steps to update your website?

  1. Make sure there is a back up of the website available.
  2. Create a staging site to do testing and evaluation.
  3. Review any suggested plugins to be added & evaluate their quality & purpose for being used.
  4. Make sure all the plug ins have versions that are compatible with the version of WordPress the site is using, the current theme being used and the page building tool.
  5. Test and evaluate the selections to ensure the site functions correctly.
  6. Push the site live to replace the existing one.
  7. Make another back up of the working site.
  8. Evaluate any changes to visitor or search volumes after the changes.

What drove the business to update their website?

As far back as 2018, Google has used page loading speed as one of its many ranking factors it applies to every business website to determine which sites are shown in search results. Any business owner can use the free Google PageSpeed Insights tool to check how their site performs on Mobile or Desktop. 

By Google’s own admission this does not guarantee a site will rank well if it achieves 100/100 but it will give you an indication of how their algorithms measure your site. Although, it is common knowledge there are tools available that can falsify the results of these tests and the information will be different to ‘real world’ visitor results. 

The owner had engaged an online service provider to provide their site with Calendar and Booking functionality and after it was installed it had a significant impact to page loading speed.  The owner attempted to rectify this by trying a different cache plug in and you can see the difference in results below. 

While it looks encouraging further exploration should have been conducted to determine if these results were ‘real’

NEW SITE

AFTER UPDATES

AFTER PLUG IN

The owner installed the Nitro Pack cache plug in which has received very mixed opinions by others that have used it. 

Allegedly it has the ability to serve information to the speed measurement tools to produce high scores that are not consistent with the actual visitor experience.There are some interesting online discussions about this. 

What was also a surprise to the owner was that the plugin even installs their own advertising footer with a link back to their website. 

So in this whole process the business owner was attempting to try and resolve a performance issue with their website but without the right expertise or contingencies in place.

NitroPack places advertising on WordPress pages in the footer

Every business owner should carefully consider whether or not they should make changes to their website, especially without the right precautions being taken. Ideally you should engage a digital marketing consultant to get assistance. 

  • Changing theme, plugins or page builder can prevent the site from loading.

     

     

  • Changing URL’s, page names, headings or text can impact SEO performance.

     

     

  • Adding elements from 3rd parties can cause conflicts on the website, slow the site down or cause other functionality issues if not tested correctly.
 
 
Engaging a digital marketing consultant can help a business owner navigate these challenges to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Paul D'Ambra

Paul D'Ambra

I love to re-energise businesses by injecting energy into their marketing using data-driven consumer insights. I’ve motivated start-ups, small business owners and six-figure corporate brands to deliver incredible marketing impact.

Whether you are a start-up or existing business, you may find yourself stuck and unsure how to execute to achieve your goals. Is your business in need of an overhaul? Maybe you need help managing workflows? Are you struggling to understand the value of your business and the direction it needs to grow & flourish?

I can solve that for you

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