Beginner’s Guide to Troubleshooting WordPress Theme Errors


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One of the reasons why you chose WordPress is because it has a reputation of being easy to use. That’s important since you are not a web developer and want access to themes you could choose and customize. If everything goes as planned, the theme will install perfectly. If not, things could get complicated. Fortunately, there are ways to troubleshoot the more common issues that arise. Before you give up, settle into a comfortable chair and give these solutions a try.

My Pages Don’t Look Like the Demo

Whether you are using WordPress for a single page website or multiple pages, you expected the results to look like the demo. That’s understandable since you didn’t add or rearrange anything other than entering text, adding images, and maybe changing the fonts. The layout itself is different and you aren’t sure why.

The difference could be that not all of the sample data was imported. The themes available with WordPress come with sample data in an XML file. If it was not imported, you can go to Tools -> Import, and then select WordPress from the options. Once that’s done, upload the XML file associated with your theme. That should make the layout match and you can get back to adding your personal touches like text, video, and images.

Don’t forget to consider the need for importing plugins. Some of the samples already have plugins as part of the layout, but not necessarily included in the theme folder you download. It may be that finding a plugin or two from the listing provided by WordPress will make the layout more like the sample.

The Page URLs are Too Complex

You want the page URLs to be short, to the point, and easy to remember. That’s great, except the permalinks that come up are a jumble of symbols, numbers, and letters. What you are looking at is the default permalink that WordPress created when you made the page. The good news is you are not stuck with that default link.

You can make the change by going to Settings -> Permalinks and selecting one of several permalink structures offered. You can go with options like the post name, a numeric URL, or even the day and name of the post. There’s also an option called Custom Structure. That allows you to add specific text to follow your site’s domain name and create your own permalink.

The Dreaded 404 Page

While this one is scary to a first-time user, take comfort in the fact that even veterans of WordPress may see this happen at one time or another. It also happens to be one of the easiest issues to resolve.

What has likely happened is that the htaccess did not save properly or there’s something about the configuration that’s off.

How do you take care of the problem? Go back to Settings -> Permalinks again. This time, don’t change any of the permalink settings you chose before. Instead, select Save. WordPress checks the configuration and makes sure the file saves and the configuration is fine.

Test it by visiting one or more of your pages and see if they display properly. Everything should be fine and the 404 page should no longer come up at all.

Something’s Wrong With the Stylesheet

The installation seemed to go well and you populated the content and images. Things didn’t look so great when you went back later to check the pages. Instead of the beautiful theme you installed, you see a white background and text in a column on the right. What happened?

The most likely scenario is that the theme you chose and installed either did not have a stylesheet in the folder or it was corrupted somehow. All is not lost. To see what’s happening, go to /wp-content/themes/ and find the folder with the same name as your theme. Look for a file called style.css. If it’s not there, upload it to your server or the computer hard drive you are using as a server. Drop the file in the same folder with the rest of the theme files.

If it is present, you can also try deleting the existing file and uploading it again. This will often correct the issue and your theme pages will display properly again.

I Can’t Find a Menu

You may have thought the menu would automatically show up. That’s not likely to be the case. You will need to use the tools Wordpress provides and create one.

It’s not hard. Go to Appearance -> Menus and choose the Create a New Menu link. Give the menu a unique name, add the items you want in the menu, and finish it off by choosing the option of Header Menu. Once everything is saved, it should appear near the top of the home page and allow readers to select pages with ease.

My Featured Image Isn’t Showing Up On All of My Pages

There was a time when Wordpress themes didn’t come with an easy way to use a featured image. It could be that the theme you chose is an older one hailing from back in the day. You could add custom fields to each of those pages and plop the image in the field, but who has time for that? There’s an easier way to get it done quickly.

There’s a plugin called Easy Add Thumbnail. Once you have the plugin installed, select the image you want featured. The plugin provides step by step instructions on how to add it to every page without actually having to go to each one. Remember that you will need to add the featured image to every page that you create from this point on.

Weird Things are Happening

There’s something to be said for choosing a host that is intimately familiar with the WordPress environment. If you thought this part of the equation didn’t matter - it does. All hosts are not created equal.

While WordPress itself is relatively easy to use, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in regard to handling the code that powers the database, themes, various plugins, and addresses security concerns.

What we’re saying is do yourself a favor and consider retaining a web host that specializes. There are plenty to choose from. For starters, check out this year’s recently released list of WordPress-approved hosts distributed by community-supported research company HostingCanada.org.

Final Thought

As one of the most popular platforms around, WordPress offers great support. Newcomers and even those who’ve been around for awhile can reach out and get help if some issue does arise. Remember that whatever is happening can be resolved with a little effort and patience. Take your time, find the right solution, then pat yourself on the back for a job well done.