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How to Report a Problem with a Website

It seems simple: You experience a problem at a website so you write to the website owner or technical support person (we'll call them the webmaster) and tell them about it (i.e. you submit a "problem report").

Unfortunately 95% of all problem reports do not contain enough information to tell the webmaster what's wrong. This results in frustration for both parties — the webmaster gets sick of spending half their day trying to extract useful information from the user and the user can't understand why the webmaster doesn't just fix the problem.

This page will give you a few quick tips to make the process a lot faster and less stressful.

(1) See it from the webmaster's point of view

The webmaster may be in charge of many websites and they may get dozens of problem reports every day. Don't assume that they have any idea who you are, which website you're at, or anything else about your situation.

Most problems are not caused by the website, but by something between the user's computer and the website. In most cases the website is actually working fine but there is an exterior problem which needs to be traced. Don't jump to conclusions or blame anyone.

(2) Use URLs

Browser Address BarMost problem reports are related to a specific page or pages on a website, so the first thing to do is tell the webmaster which page you're talking about.

When you visit a web page, the URL (address) of the page is shown in your browser's address bar as pictured right. Copy the URL of any relevant pages you have trouble with and paste them into your problem report.

Bad example:

There's an error on one of your games.

Good example:

The following page is showing an error message: http://[Full URL]. The error message is [error message].

(3) Use Excessive Detail

There are literally dozens of potential causes for most website problems. In order to diagnose the problem, the webmaster must have a lot of information. If you say "Your website doesn't work", the webmaster will not be able to help.

When describing the problem, start at the beginning and explain each and every single step you are taking, and describe in intricate detail what goes wrong.

Example of a completely useless problem report:

I tried to post post a message at your forum but it won't let me.

In this case the webmaster will have to write back to you and ask for more details. The following example would be more useful:

I went to your forum at [forum URL]. I registered with the username [name] and password [password]. I received the confirmation email telling me the registration was complete. I returned to the forum and entered my details in the login form at the top right of the forum home page. When I clicked the Login button I received an error message which said "Invalid login name or password". I have double-checked my login details and checked my CAPS lock button.

(4) Error Messages Are Good

Error messages may seem like gobbledygook to you but they are there for a reason — to give the webmaster accurate information. Copy and paste any error messages into your problem report so the webmaster can read them.

For example, the following error message might seem pointless to you:

Runtime Error: FDY-66723

.... but to the webmaster, this is great information. They can enter this number into their system and get an immediate answer to the problem.


Summary

Get into the habit of providing far more information than you think is necessary. You can never give too much information and if you provide a useful problem report, you will get yourself onside with the webmaster and increase your chances of a speedy resolution.

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