One of the websites that I own and have been building for five years now, got absolutely smacked down by Google search. In Google Search Console (Webmasters Tools), I’m told that my web pages pretty much all have a 500 code internal server error. Que? Imagine: having over 1100 visitors per day on your WordPress site trickle down to less than 10 in under a week. If you’re anyone who makes money online, you probably just got a sinking feeling in your stomach, at the thought of all of that lost revenue. The main problem that I had with fixing the error codes, was that my website was still up and running just fine. Essentially, there was no server error on my hosting service’s part, so what was the fix?
Website is Still Up and Running
So, this fix is only if your website is still fully functional, and it’s only search engines like Google that cannot access it for some reason.
This may not be an issue for everyone, but one thing that I changed was my sitemap. For some reason, the sitemap I have been using for years was maxing out at 234 pages worth of content, when I had several hundred more posts that weren’t even on there.
Now, before these errors, my new content was still being indexed and ranked well in Google even if it wasn’t on my sitemap. As such, I deactivated the old one and utilized the one found in the ‘All in One SEO’ Pack plugin. I thought that maybe a change in sitemap would fix the 500 error issue.
Maybe, Google was being blocked from crawling my website by either the robots.txt file or just not getting indexed due to some issue with the sitemap.
Now, this didn’t fix the issue BUT the new sitemap did fully submit all of my content instead of just a fraction.
2. The Simple Change that Worked
When I searched online for solutions to a 500 error problem, all of the pages were dealing with sites that were no longer functioning. Mine was still up and running without issue.
With that in mind, I figured there is no way it was my server that was causing the issue. I have other sites hosted on the same server, without any problems.
So, if it wasn’t my hosting, the problem had to be either a plugin that I was running or my WordPress theme.
I first tried a new WordPress theme. Bingo! Once I made this easy change, I went to my Search Console and did a ‘Fetch as Google’, and it came back without the error.
That’s it. The whole problem was caused by an update to my WordPress theme and fixed just by changing it to a new one.
Aftermath and Getting Indexed and Ranked in Google
When my website got hit with the 500 server error, only 4 of my pages remained indexed by Google.
With the fix, it was back up to 191 the next day.
Still not nearly at 100% but it’s looking like things are going to be re-indexed by Google over the coming week(s). The only problem right now is, that just because they are getting indexed again, the pages have lost their former rankings.
My site is basically getting no traffic at the moment. I don’t know how long it is going to take to recover my rankings. My word, the amount of money this is costing me each day.
My plan to aid recovery for that website: create new content, submit those individual pages to Google, re-submit my sitemap, update older content, and make any on-page SEO fixes that I can find.
This has been a royal pain to deal with, all because of a simple change in my former WordPress theme. Had I caught it earlier, perhaps the damage would have been quickly reversed. Alas, I didn’t check that site’s analytics for a few days, and got walloped by the 500 server error.