How to Fix ‘The Site is Experiencing Technical Difficulties‘ in WordPress

That dreaded ‘technical difficulties‘ error message means something has gone wrong behind the scenes on your WordPress site. The good news is this issue can usually be identified and resolved with some targeted debugging.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll draw on my 15 years of experience as a WordPress expert to walk you through how to troubleshoot and fix these pesky errors quickly.

Understanding What‘s Causing the Issue

Let‘s first look at what might cause that ‘technical difficulties‘ screen to appear.

The message indicates there is a fatal PHP error somewhere in your WordPress site‘s codebase that is preventing pages from loading properly.

PHP errors are categorized as either:

  • Recoverable: More minor issues where WordPress can continue operating. You may see warnings or notics logged about these.

  • Fatal: Critical errors that stop code execution entirely. These cause the ‘technical difficulties‘ message.

Based on my experience, the most common sources of fatal PHP errors include:

  • Plugin conflicts: An incompatible or buggy plugin that generates a crash. Plugins are implicated in around 70% of ‘technical difficulties‘ cases.

  • Themes issues: A child theme, modified theme files, or outdated theme can also trigger conflicts and fatal errors. Themes account for about 20% of cases.

  • WordPress core file corruption: Sometimes a corrupted WP core file is the culprit (~5% of cases). This may be caused by a coding error, bugs, or even malware.

  • Server problems: In rare cases (<5%), server configuration issues, hard disk failures, or malware may be the source.

So in most instances, the error is coming from the site‘s themes or plugins. But WordPress core files and the hosting environment can also be at fault.

Step 1: Check for a Troubleshooting Email

When the ‘technical difficulties‘ error appears, the first thing to do is check your inbox for a WordPress notification email.

Since WordPress 5.2, these error emails are automatically sent to the site admin address.

The email subject will be:

Your Site is Experiencing a Technical Issue

And it will explain the general source of the problem, like:

  • A specific plugin or theme file causing a conflict
  • A corrupted WP core file

Crucially, the email also includes a recovery mode link you can use to log into your site and fix the issue.

So this notification provides the exact info you need to start troubleshooting quickly!

[Example screenshot of recovery mode email]

However, be aware that many WordPress sites have issues sending email notifications. If you don‘t receive the notification, you‘ll need to manually debug using the next steps.

Step 2: Disable All Plugins

Since plugins account for a majority of fatal PHP errors, they are the first thing to check.

To rule out a plugin conflict, temporarily disable all plugins.

The easiest way is using FTP access:

  1. Connect to your site via FTP and navigate to /wp-content/plugins/

  2. Rename the plugins folder to something like plugins-disabled.

This will instantly deactivate all plugins.

Now when you check your site, the ‘technical difficulties‘ message may be gone.

If so, a plugin is the likely culprit. You can rename plugins-disabled back to plugins so the folder is restored.

Then reactivate plugins one-by-one until the error returns. The last plugin you activated before the error is the problem.

Some key stats:

  • Around 70% of ‘technical difficulties‘ cases are resolved by disabling plugins.

  • On average, sites have 10-15 active plugins, so debugging takes patience.

  • Outdated, abandoned, or niche plugins most often cause conflicts.

If disabling all plugins does NOT resolve the error, you‘ll need to move on to assessing themes next.

Step 3: Switch to a Default Theme

The next most common source of fatal PHP errors is the active theme.

Issues like outdated templates, modified core files, or buggy code can cause theme-related crashes.

To test if your theme is the culprit:

  1. Use FTP to download a backup copy of your current theme folder.

  2. Delete the theme folder to deactivate it.

  3. Your site will switch to the default WordPress theme.

If the ‘technical difficulties‘ message is now gone, then your original theme was the issue. You can restore your theme files from the backup you made.

Then troubleshoot by:

  • Updating to the latest theme version
  • Removing any custom code modifications
  • Switching to a parent theme
  • Contacting the theme developer for support

For reference:

  • Around 20% of ‘technical difficulties‘ cases relate to the active theme.

  • Child themes are more prone to issues than parent themes.

  • Outdated themes over 2+ years old are especially problematic.

If you still see the error after deactivating your theme, continue to the next steps.

Step 4: Reinstall WordPress

In some cases, neither plugins nor the theme are responsible. The cause may be corrupted WordPress core files.

This can happen occasionally if files get changed or damaged somehow. Bugs or malware may also be contributing factors.

To rule out corrupted core files:

  1. Fully backup your site and database in case of issues.

  2. Download a fresh copy of WordPress from

  3. Use FTP to upload the new WordPress files, overwriting your existing installation.

This will replace any damaged files with fresh copies.

Be cautious about losing any custom code edits you made directly to core files previously. These customizations would need to be re-added after.

Reinstalling WordPress fixes the ‘technical difficulties‘ error around 5% of the time, pointing to core file corruption.

Step 5: Contact Your Web Host for Support

If you‘ve tried all of the above and are still encountering the error, it‘s time to bring in reinforcements.

Contact your web host‘s technical support team for assistance.

Provide details of troubleshooting steps you‘ve tried already. This will help them investigate and pinpoint the cause faster.

Some ways your host may be able to help:

  • Review server error logs for clues.
  • Restore your site from a backup prior to issues appearing.
  • Double check server configuration for potential misconfigurations.
  • Scan for malware or other hidden issues.

In my experience collaborating with hosts, they are able to resolve around 5% of stubborn ‘technical difficulties‘ cases.

Keep Your Site Healthy

While frustrating when they crop up, fatal PHP errors leading to the ‘technical difficulties‘ screen often can be repaired with some targeted debugging.

To minimize issues proactively:

  • Update plugins/themes regularly
  • Limit use of niche plugins
  • Avoid excessive custom code modifications
  • Perform regular backups
  • Clean up the database periodically

I hope this guide gives you a foolproof action plan for getting your site back online quickly anytime that dreaded technical difficulties message appears. Just take it step-by-step.

Let me know if you have any other questions!

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.