Why did my Website Break?

You’ve had a website built, it’s running smoothly taking orders, generating leads and making sales. Suddenly one day without warning, there’s an error on the screen and the website isn’t working. Why does this happen?

The first thing to understand is that modern websites are not static brochures. They are machines.

In the olden days, a web designer would create a webpage out of HTML code – a bit like a Word document – and upload it to a webserver where it would sit, hopefully getting views for years on end without issue.

Websites aren’t like that any more.

A modern website is not like a Word document anymore, if anything it’s more like the whole MS Office Suite! And there’s a lot of moving parts.

In this article, I describe a few of the moving parts and why it’s so important to keep your WordPress installation upto date.

The Webserver

Your website sites on a webserver which is a computer in a datacentre connected to the internet.

The internet is full of bots that look for servers that have security holes. They do this, usually because they want to take over the webserver and install their own software. This is often - but not always - so they can send out spam emails telling people they have won the Nigerian lottery, their rich aunt has died and left a multi million dollar fortune, or offering fake Viagra for sale. This is usually automated and happens thousands of time a day. If you have a website, your webserver is definitely being probed by bad guys

To counter this, the underlying software on the webserver will be being regularly patched and updated, usually by your data centre administrators.

The Underlying Programming Language

Your website will be written in a language which is interpreted by your webserver to produce web pages. For WordPress websites this is PHP. Programming languages have their own security issues which are regularly updated. In extreme cases - like when PHP upgraded from 5.6 to 7.0 (they missed out version 6 for some reason) they totally removed some important database functions which caused a lot of older WordPress websites to fail.

datacentres will sometimes force updates of PHP on your webserver for security reasons.

Your WordPress website and all of it's components need to be compatible with the version of PHP running on your webserver.

WordPress Core

Your WordPress website has a core component which manages the basic website functionality including providing a dashboard that you can use to add, edit and delete content. This is updated every three months or so by the WordPress developers for a number of reasons:
  • To ensure any security holes and bugs are closed
  • To ensure compatability with latest web standards (eg able to function with the latest version of PHP)
  • To introduce new features

  • WordPress will define minimum PHP version requirements and your WordPress installation must be compatible with the version of PHP on your webserver. If you upgrade your version of WordPress to a version which is no longer compatible with your version of PHP, your website will break.

    WordPress Theme

    The public facing part of your website is formed by your WordPress theme. This needs to be compatible with the version of PHP on your server and your version of WordPress. If your version of WordPress is updated but your theme is not, your website may break.

    WordPress Plugins

    Additionally functionality within your website is provided by Plugins. WordPress has an enormous repository of free plugins - nearly 60,000 at the time of writing. These include WooCommerce, which provides ecommerce functionality as well as plugins that create contact forms, provide security services, assist with SEO, add membership functionality, display the local weather etc. etc.

    Most WordPress websites we see have between 15 - 40 plugins installed. Some have less, and some have more. Some websites have so many plugins, management can become difficult (we call this "Plugin Soup").

    Each plugin needs to be compatable with the WordPress theme, WordPress Core and the PHP version on your webserver

    If you have auto updates turned on for your plugins, incompatable versions can be installed, breaking your site, without your knowledge.
  • How to: What is Plugin Soup
  • Latest Web Standards

    Web standards are changing all the time, often dictated by Google or the other big players. Foe example, in 2014 Google announced that they would penalise websites not using an SSL certificate.

    Payment gateways may change the encryption methods required for sending data between your website and financial institutions.

    Core, Theme and Plugins may then require these standards are adhered to to operate correctly.


    Every WordPress website is a target for hackers. It's not personal (usually) but if your website is not up to date, the chances are the vulnerabilities are already being probed. WordPress vulnerabilities, once a patch is available, are usually disclosed publicly.
  • How to: Why was my WordPress website hacked?
  • WordPress Maintenance

    If your WordPress installation has got a bit out of hand with thousands of plugins, adverts and update notices everywhere, perhaps you need one of our WordPress maintenance plans?

    Book a free consultation to discuss how we can help you get your website under control