Why I need your URL

I do a lot of forum support. Actually, it’s the main part of my day. One of my most frequent responses is some variation of, “Can I get your URL so I can go look?”.

Most people just paste in their URL and we go on our merry way, solving problems together.

Sometimes it doesn’t go so well. Some people are confused. “You mean you want a backlink from my site?” No, I just want your url so I can click on it. Some people are shy. “Well it’s in development and doesn’t look very good.” I know, I expect this. You’re not asking me to critique your design, you’re asking me to help fix something that went wrong. Some people forget. “Well it’s linked in my username!” Yes, but the site being worked on is not always the one associated with a user profile, so I can’t assume.

Some people – thankfully only a handful – get irate. “WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME USELESS QUESTIONS??? I JUST WANT HELP!” (paraphrased to protect the guilty)

So in order to lessen those times, I thought I’d write this post in the hopes that some light bulbs may come on and we can all get back to the yellow brick road of problem solving happiness.

I ask for your URL to cut down on the amount of educated guessing and to cut down on the amount of back-and-forth questions I might need to ask otherwise. Maybe you’re having a hard time explaining the issue as a non-tech person. As a tech person, it’s actually *easier* for me to just go look and use tools I have at my disposal (like Firebug) or poke around the actual file structure or look at the rendered HTML of the page.

YES! i can do that! And once I’ve done that, I would very much love to show you how I did it so hopefully you can learn too. Here’s an example:

User: “I made some css changes to my site but they don’t show up.”

Choice 1: “Can you give the the URL to your site please?”

Choice 2: “Are you sure you edited the right file? Are you using a caching plugin? (some people say no and they actually ARE using one and forgot) Is your css syntax correct?”

Choice 2 can be done all at once or in tiny steps, pulling each piece of information out.

Choice 1? I visit the site. I see they are running a caching plugin and suggest they disable it or clear the cache. I use Firebug on the front of the site and can’t find the css they insisted they changed I view the source of the page, find the URL to the stylesheet and see they also made a typo, so the css change isn’t rendered anyway.

Choice 2 results in a thread 20-30 posts long that lasts from a full day to a week. The user gets frustrated because their issue isn’t solved in a timely manner. I get frustrated too.

Choice 1 usually results in a thread a few posts long – anywhere from 4 or 6 to maybe 10. We wind up the issue as resolved within the afternoon. We’re both happy.

Another reason why I ask for a URL is because I get asked a lot of css/design type questions. It is extremely difficult to troublshoot css paddings and margins from a screenshot alone. Even the best designer (of which I will freely admit I am not) will still have difficulty explaining exactly what element you need to find and exactly how many pixels of padding will fix that gap, just from looking at a screenshot. At best it would be an educated guess, even from the theme designer, who knows the code inside out, but does not know exactly what else you did to it.

So, with your URL, I can quickly visit your site, open up Firebug, find the *exact* element you are asking about. I look at the right pane and see it had padding-bottom (for example). I change that number and the gap you asked about goes away.

I go back and answer your question with, “Find #nav in your stylesheet and adjust the padding down by 5px.” See? Exact. Everyone is happy.

And it’s not just theme related – with multisite issues, I can just go look at your site and see exactly what you meant by a blank theme on sub sites, or with domain mapping I can run some diagnostics on your DNS records when I have your URL and see where it’s failing.

And because Ipstenu and I share a brain sometimes, I told her I was going to write this post, so she wrote about asking good questions.

But I will still ask you for your URL. ;)

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