The week my blog crashed

The week my blog crashed by northstory.ca

Let’s be honest.

When people go shopping for a house, the asethetic details are the first things that tend to win them over. They walk in and it’s “Oh my God, look at the kitchen!” and “Wow these floors are gorgeous!” Finances aside, a shiny, pretty staged home that’s fully renovated tends to cause the bidding wars over a run down nightmare that requires a complete gut job. Well that depends if you’re a DIY blogger or live in Toronto or Vancouver, but you get the idea.

It’s very much the same when you design a blog. You get once chance to make a first impression to anyone visiting your site, so design details are crucial. You spend days, sometimes weeks, discussing colours and fonts to use, what your header will look like, should you have slight shadows under your social media buttons and how your projects and writing will be displayed.

The problem that both the house and a blog have in common, is what happens when the insides are broken?

What if the foundation is cracked and there is asbestos behind the walls? What if it’s missing a load bearing wall and dangerously close to toppling over? What if there are termites that are making it their dinner? Bet you’re wishing you didn’t wave the home inspection in that bidding war now.

Blogs are no different. What good is a pretty site, if nobody can see it or it disappears because the code is a mess or you got hacked or it’s loading at a snails pace because of all the plug in’s you downloaded for your widgets?

I learned this the hard way this month.

And I want to share my story so that this does not happen to you.

A week ago, on a Monday, about 30 minutes after I had went Live with a post that included a Giveaway for a client, I decided to update 2 plug in’s. For those who don’t know what plug in’s are, if you run your site on a self hosted WordPress.org platform, developers make these little “plug in’s” to help you design and run your site. They’re the same idea as Apps for your phone.

The thing with plug in’s is that they can work against each other because of their codes, so if you download one, you never know if it’s going to conflict with an existing one and cause scrambled eggs of your site. Both of these Plug In’s were reputable and well known and already in use on my site, so I trusted them to be safe to update as I had done so many times before.

The moment I updated them and pressed Refresh, I got this:

 Blank White Square

The white screen of death.

Then it was Refresh, Refresh, &*%#$@-Fresh!!! Because the more times I pressed the Refresh button, surely unicorns and fairies would show up with pixie dust and cause it to all come back.

I couldn’t even get into my Dashboard (which is the area in WordPress that you log into to write, edit, design etc). I wasn’t even worthy of a 404 Error. I got nothing but the white screen.

15 minutes later I was on Live Support Tech Help with my hosting company, who then got me online with their Advanced Tech Support. Half a day and a half my weekly grocery money later, they had restored a previously saved Back Up version of my blog (which is saved daily by my host provider).

Good news! My site was alive. I could put down the whisky. I lost the last entry but my blog was back. I rewrote the entry relieved that the damage was minor and wondered which plug in caused the mess.

Well, it wasn’t a plug in. Because it got worse. Bring back the whisky.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon of the same week, at 2 pm I logged onto my site, all seemed well. At 3 pm I sat down again as I wanted to write a post. I tried to log in.

I get the white screen of death again.

This time I did nothing. No plug in updates. No possible screw up on my end. It just disappeared and I couldn’t get into my Dashboard.

And then I got this dreaded sense of Deja Vu. 15 mins later I was again on Live Tech Support, and then sent to Advanced Tech Support. This time however, it was different. Several hours later I got a message from them. And to summarize (not verbatim) it was the equivalent of this:

“We’re really sorry, but we can’t seem to restore your backup. There is something wrong with it. Your backup isn’t working.”

I re-read their email twice.

My backup wasn’t working?  My backup wasn’t working??!! No, no, no, no, no. That’s my unicorns, fairies and pixie dust. Why was my backup not working? This is what I was told over and over. Make sure you have your site backed up. I did. And here it was. Not working. Did I just lose 2 and a half years worth of work?

Now. NOW the panic set in.

To make a very long emotional couple of days very short, my friend Jo-Anna put me in touch with her friend that does tech support. His name is Mitch and he is now Superman to my blog. And he saved my site doing what he does best and that’s understanding the code that when I stare at it reminds me of the Matrix screensaver. He did what my hosting company couldn’t even sort out.

To say the whole experience was unnerving was an understatement. And while I didn’t cry all week or the time this was going on, when I got Mitch’s email saying he got my site back up, I am pretty sure the people walking by me at the parking lot of Walmart were like why is there a woman crying in her car and should we call the cops?

The problem with bloggers is that majority of us are not web developers. We don’t know how to read code. We’re writers, furniture painters, sewing machine empresses, masters of a miter saw, crafters, makers, photographers, stylists, storytellers and artists. I’ll bet if I did a random poll of us all, I’m willing to bet that the majority would not know how to restore their site from their cPanel.

We are so focused on creating content, growing our social media numbers, learning to master Pinterest, pitch brands and so on, that we neglect one of the most crucial areas of our blogs. And that is everything underneath it all that makes it run.

I will never ever, ever, ever again neglect the technical side of my blog again.

That means once a month or at least several times a year having Mitch look it over to ensure that everything is running smoothly behind the scenes. To make sure I don’t have conflicting or unnecessary plug in’s (which I did).  That WordPress wasn’t saving every single edit of every post draft I ever wrote thuscreating an imaginary 50 foot saved draft sandwich of them all causing me to have 42MB’s of storage space eaten up (which he got down to 12MB). To make sure that all the bots and spiders that were crawling and attacking my site would get lost by adding better security features (we did). And most importantly to get another backup of my blog made on a site separate from my hosting companies server – a backup of a backup if you will.

We still don’t know 100% what caused my blog to crash, but it was likely the perfect storm of the above all accumulating into a giant snowball and just hitting a wall at once.

Now, I can tell you there is a huge void in our market right now for technical help like this for bloggers. A big part of it is that we don’t usually think of getting a blog tune up or help with technical stuff until it’s too late (I’m waving my hand as a giant example), then we scramble to get things done.

BlogPodium has recognized this need for behind the scenes help with our blogs. Wouldn’t you love to have someone who knows what they are doing to take a look and see what’s going on? Do you need help making a bunch of little design tweaks to your stylesheet but aren’t sure how? Are you worried you have your SEO set up incorrectly or have unnecessary plug in’s? Are you thinking of going self hosted from WordPress.com to WordPress.org and need to learn how to do that?

Well this year, you can.

BlogPodium is introducing its Nerd Station where they will offer a choice 3 different types of consultations for your blog.

1) A Technical WordPress Consulation

2) A Website Design Consulation

3) A Technical Blogger, SquareSpace or WordPress.com consulation.

Go visit the Nerd Station information page to learn more and to book your time slot. This is included FREE with your BlogPodium ticket. As a bonus everyone who does a consult with the Nerd Station will be entered for a chance to win a $200 Gift Certificate to Camp Tech which can be redeemed for tech classes or private training.

So if you can’t get your own Superman (that would be Mitch) you can at least get started in the right direction at this years BlogPodium. Which will also help save you in trips to the liquor store during the time this occurs, should heaven forbid this happen to your blog.

Don’t let it. Book your Nerd Station appointment today!

 

BlogPodium

15 Comments

  • Reply
    Laurie
    July 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    If you run into the white screen of death again after updating a plugin or your theme, the easiest way to fix this is to access your server via FTP (your host will be able to give you your login info for this). This lets you see the files on your server. From there, change the name of the folder of the plugin or theme that you just updated. Doesn’t matter what you change it to, you just want it to be different so WordPress won’t recognize it. That should restore access to your site. Then you can either grab an older version of the theme/plugin (if it’s available on the WP.org repository, there should be a link to older versions) and upload that over the updated version or decide if you can do without the plugin.

    And I totally agree about how important it is to use some kind of back up tool, whether it’s a plugin like Backup Buddy (paid) or <a href="http://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-dbmanager/"WP-DB Manager (free) or VaultPress or even exporting your database on a regular schedule (probably not for the non-coder, though)

    And finding a good Mitch (or a good Laurie 😉 ) is definitely helpful.

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 3, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      Laurie I am HAPPY to recommend you to anyone. There is such a need for technical support for bloggers right now, I could have a list of bloggers who would love to get in touch.

      Thanks for the info on the white screen of death. I am still terrified of my cPanel. I know, I know. Bad.

      • Reply
        Laurie
        August 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm

        Thanks, Alex! I’ve been meaning to flesh out my site to add in technical support, because that’s definitely something I do… (and one-on-one coaching to walk people through doing things themselves.)

        I totally get how the cPanel can be scary, but the good thing to remember is that your themes/plugins on the server are separate from your database, which is where all of your content is saved, so you have to work extra hard to muck up both the site and the database.

  • Reply
    Gilit
    July 27, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    OMG my eyes cross when I even TRY to learn these things even though I know I should. And I would have cried all week long. I’m glad Mitch has got your back.

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 3, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      I can get a decent handle on changing my stylesheet IF and I repeat a big IF someone tells me where to change it. I am nowhere near confident enough to go and rewrite code. Every time I do, I cut and paste a copy of the original so I know what it looks like should I have undo any damage.

      My eyes are still crossed on it all most of the time.

  • Reply
    204 Park
    July 28, 2014 at 11:28 am

    This is such a good idea – as someone who barely knows basic code I know that if this happened to my blog I would probably have a full blown hysterical meltdown! So happy for you that you were able to restore your site! XO

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 3, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      I am amazed I didn’t have a meltdown. My husband I think is even more amazed as I am the most hyper sensitive person ever – in other words I tend to overreact all the time. But seriously. A tech check up. Do it!

  • Reply
    Rachel | The Crafted Life
    July 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Oh my goodness, how awful!!! I am so sorry this happened to you, but it’s inspiring to see you turn it into a learning lesson. I’ve defiantly had those moments where I update a plugin and it breaks something or another. Never been more thankful to be dating a developer!

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 3, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      HA! See? The benefits of dating a developer is right. Both myself and my husband are computer non-developers (I still have MS word 2003 on ours – I mean really now…) so I am very appreciate of all that Mitch has done for my site.

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Brave New Home
    July 29, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Oh, plugins. I had some screwy things happen on my blog and the bottom line was that my plugins weren’t playing nice together. I’m glad you’re up and running again. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 3, 2014 at 10:48 pm

      Plug In’s are terrifying to me. Every time I see that update part I go Do I or do I not? I’m at a point where I would rather have someone do it for me than go through all this again.

  • Reply
    Jacquie
    July 29, 2014 at 11:50 am

    So sorry! Glad it was all able to be fixed. I had the same issue with my blog — totally crashed WHILE our family was on vacation (in a time zone that was 5 hours different from my wonderful developer — who was also on a 3 day vaca) and no help from our host company because they couldn’t find the issue. So yes, looking for a new host and trying to learn a little more myself. Am now making a note for monthly check-up idea/email as a reminder (love that!)

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 3, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      I think that was one of the biggest disappointments in all of this. That my hosting company couldn’t sort it out. I think it’s time to make a change in the near future.

  • Reply
    Gabby Whitaker
    August 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Alex! UGH I would have totally lost it if this happened!! Happy that everything worked out well for you. Any advice as to best practices for keeping your blog healthy for us non-coding non-techies out there?

    • Reply
      Alex
      August 4, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Find a web developer!! LOL I am serious. I am happy to recommend Mitch to you. If you prefer someone you know, just put a shout out in a Facebook blog group or via friends and then ask someone to give your blog a look. The amount of issues I had were ridiculous and I am not about to touch code and remove it.

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