The first thing you should do is not panic. Do not start posting on every forum saying “it doesn’t work.” That is not helpful, and will probably end up taking longer to solve your issue.
The short end of this is:
1) You need to do your research before you ask for support
2) ‘Research’ can involve running tests on your side, to rule out the most common causes of plugin failures
3) You need to be patient
There is a sequence of ruling things out to find a plugin conflict, as the first step in finding out what’s wrong with your ‘broken’ plugin.
If you want to skip ahead, and ask a bunch of sources for help, you probably won’t get very far. You can’t really be doing two things in tandem when trying to rule out plugin or code conflicts on your site. So writing to your host or asking more people to look into it won’t really get you further because you need to test things one at a time.
Step 1: See if it’s a plugin or theme conflict
Set up a staging site, or another copy of your site somewhere other than your live site. Ensure you have backups of everything, and know how to restore those backups if you need to.
Disable all plugins except the one you are experiencing a problem with.
Clear your browser cache. If you are using a host or caching plugin on your site that offers the option to ‘purge’ your cache, do that too.
Perform your actions again to see if you are still getting the same undesired results with your problem plugin.
If you are – try deactivating your theme and activate one of the latest in the ‘Twenty’ series by WordPress.
If the problem still persists with a ‘Twenty’ theme, go to Step 2. If the problem goes away, go to Step 3.
If the problem goes away after deactivating plugins, start re-activating the other plugins one-by-one, or two-by-two. At each re-activation, clear cache again, reload your site, and test to see if the problem remains.
At some point, you are likely going to find that activating your ‘problem plugin’ along with another plugin is what causes the issue you are experiencing. So the plugin is not ‘broken’ – it’s just conflicting with another plugin.
At this point you have a few choices:
A) Try updating the plugin (on your test or staging site first!), see if the problem goes away.
B) Report the problem to the plugin developers that have a conflict. See if they can help. Authors of paid plugins usually are good about responding and helping. If you get help from the author of a free plugin, be considerate, polite, and grateful that they are helping you by volunteering their time. Also, letting them know of your gratefulness can make a difference in their lives.
Sometimes it’s useful (and WAY faster) to also find out how to reproduce an error, and write it out step, by incremental step. If a plugin author can see that it was a series of actions that caused your issue, they can target it exponentially faster to help you out. For example, something not saving, or not being published right, or disappearing, or recording wrong, and so on. These are not ‘just happening’ – something is causing them.
If the error can’t be reproduced, it usually can’t be troubleshooted. So do this work before you ask for plugin support.
Note: if you haven’t taken the steps above to test your plugins or perform updates, the plugin author will probably ask you to go back and do this before they help you. So it’s better not to waste time by trying to skip the initial steps.
C) If you can’t get ‘free’ help, you can hire an experienced developer to look into this further for you. My gut would say to not bother at this point though – you probably need to drop one or the other plugin, and look for another solution to get the functionality you need out of the conflicting plugin.
Step 2: Update your WordPress CMS, theme and plugins
If you can’t find a plugin or theme conflict by deactivating everything and then slowly re-activating them, you should perform site updates.
This is something you should be doing for security purposes anyway. I write about this here.
Set up a staging or test site to perform your site updates before going ‘live’ with the new versions of your software. Update WordPress, themes and plugins to their latest versions.
It is much wiser to do these updates one-by-one so that if anything breaks in the process, you’ll know exactly what the culprit was.
Always test, test, test after doing updates. Try clicking on things, fill out and submit forms, and ensure everything is functioning as it should. Do this before you go live with your updates, or, if that’s not feasible, very soon after you go live with your updates. You’ll want to know at what point in time things went ‘wonky’ if you discover the ‘wonkiness’ later.
Step 3: Check for conflicting code in your theme
Sometimes, the way a theme was developed, or the way code was added to it, is not right. The tricky part is finding out WHERE this incorrect code is.
This can be tough, and quite a headache. If you are not a skilled developer, you will probably want to hire someone to help you here.
But places you can check are:
Anywhere you have loaded a script.
Anywhere in your theme settings where you can enter specific code (for example in Genesis themes, you can enter Header and Footer Scripts under “Theme Settings”, and you can enter scripts on each page for tasks like tracking in Analytics or another e-marketing solution).
You can also enable WP Debugging or check error logs to see if anything comes up. I’ll let you Google how to do that.
Step 4: Ask your host for help, if it’s a hosting related issue
If you are getting blank pages, pages not loading, strange error messages on pages, or things of that nature, it may be wise to run it by your host, just in case they can help.
It’s unlikely your host will help you if a plugin is not working though.
BUT, in cases where a plugin requires pages not to be cached, and if your host uses caching of some sort, this may be it. You may need to ask your host to disable caching, or change their server-side settings to have your plugin function properly.
Also, if your host has disallowed plugins, this can also be the cause for it not functioning right. You should research this before you contact your host, to make sure your plugin is not on their ‘disallowed’ list.
Step 5: Google the issue
This step can theoretically go before or during any of the above steps. In the mean time, if you do want to do troubleshooting in tandem with your tests, the best you can do is google the issue to see if others have reported it, or find out if there are known plugin conflicts with the plugin you’re having trouble with. That would be a start to finding a resolution, or at least having something to explain when you do get to a support person.
If other people are reporting the issue, it is likely a problem with the plugin itself.
But if no one else is reporting the issue, the problem may lie deeper on your site.
If it’s an issue only you are having our site, the problem is very likely within the ‘eco system’ of your site.
I mean, it could be that you’re the first person reporting the issue, but this is unlikely unless you updated and noticed the problem immediately after the version update was released.
How to avoid plugin conflicts through prevention
Many may want to just write to their site developer to get help. But here is the problem: if you came to me as the developer of your theme to find out what’s wrong, but you hadn’t been formerly telling me you were tampering with your code, then this could be next to impossible to sort out. Well, maybe not “impossible”, but really, really hard. It can be like finding a needle in a haystack sometimes.
This is why you should be telling your developer before you add code to your site, install plugins, change settings, or anything of that nature. It’s not a small thing to copy and paste a script on your site. And it’s not a small thing to install a ‘harmless’ plugin. These things all interact with each other at some level. It can really mess things up if you don’t know what you’re doing, or even if you DO know what you’re doing, but aren’t aware of the background situation of how, or why, the site was built a certain way.
So, at least notify everyone else working on the site, or keep a log of all changes you do, so that support help can look back in the records.
Sometimes you can avoid a lot of this by just communicating what you want to do, so professional developers can prevent some of these conflicts for you, or at least target them much, much faster when the troubleshooting needs arise (because they will know what was done from day X to day Y that could have caused your issue).
Sometimes you just have to give up on the plugin
You could also try error logs, and other things (or a support rep would help with this).
But sometimes, it’s just a mystery. Or it’s an outdated, no-longer supported plugin that is just not compatible with WordPress anymore. There is nothing you can do at that point except fund the development of the same functionality on your own. Or find another similar plugin.
Don’t annoy support people, it can take longer
It really is a step-by-step process. If you skip steps, and try to get support from a plugin author too early, that person will probably just lead you back to step 1, because no one can really help until the issue has been narrowed down.
Or they will ignore you, because they probably get lots of support requests of people saying things like, “it’s not working”, which is not helping them help you.
Or it may be in their support forum rules, which a lot of people don’t read, that you need to do certain steps first (as explained above). If you ignore the rules of the forum, they may also just ignore you.
So you should be prudent in doing your tests first.