In this post, I’ll show you how to go full NSA on your WordPress site. That’s right, you’ll be able to track exactly what every user on your site is doing at all times. And don’t get me wrong, we’re talking about a lot more than anonymous metadata here!
Ok, jokes aside, tracking activity in your WordPress dashboard is actually pretty benevolent. It can help you audit your security, keep track of the most recent items posted to your site, or solve user support issues (for a membership site or something similar). Tracking activity can also be helpful for debugging issues with your site.
The plugins I’m going to discuss below get very granular. You can see actions as small as creating a new post, failing a login attempt, or changing basic site options.
So, if you want to track WordPress user activity and changes, check out these six free plugins.
With its 50,000 active installs, Activity Log is the most popular free option for tracking events on Wordpress. Activity Log tracks pretty much every change that happens in your WordPress admin. But to avoid slowing down your site, it runs on a separate table in your database.
The list of tracked changes is truly impressive. Here are the highlights:
- WordPress - Core Updates
- Posts - Created, Updated, Deleted
- Pages - Created, Updated, Deleted
- Custom Post Type - Created, Updated, Deleted
- Tags - Created, Edited, Deleted
- Categories - Created, Edited, Deleted
- Taxonomies - Created, Edited, Deleted
- Comments - Created, Approved, Unproved, Trashed, Untrashed, Spammed, Unspammed, Deleted
- Media - Uploaded, Edited, Deleted
- Users - Login, Logout, Login has failed, Update profile, Registered and Deleted
- Plugins - Installed, Updated, Activated, Deactivated, Changed
- Themes - Installed, Updated, Deleted, Activated, Changed (Editor and Customizer)
- Widgets - Added to a sidebar / Deleted from a sidebar, Order widgets
- Menus - A menu is being Created, Updated, Deleted
- Setting - General, Writing, Reading, Discussion, Media, Permalinks
You can even set it up so that you get email notifications when certain events occur. You can choose exactly which events trigger email notifications so that you’re never overwhelmed.
Activity Log is made by Pojo, who you might be familiar with for their Elementor page builder. That association gives me trust that Activity Log will continue to be updated and improved.
Simple History is another popular event tracking plugin for WordPress. It gives you a new History tab in your WordPress dashboard where you can quickly view and filter all of the activity on your WordPress site.
It also gives you a really nifty post differential feature that allows you to quickly compare two versions of a post/page to see what was changed.
And for events like failed login attempts, you can even view exactly where the login attempt came from.
The only thing it’s missing is email notifications. You can grab an RSS feed of your events to monitor when you’re away from your site, but no email notifications. Otherwise, Simple History has some great features.
The list of events which are tracked is comprehensive. As far as I can tell, it’s no different from Activity Log.
WP Security Audit Log
WP Security Audit Log is a free plugin with premium add-ons. In addition to all of the normal WordPress changes, WP Security Audit Log can also help you track changes on Multisite and WooCommerce, which is certainly helpful.
For example, if you’re running a WooCommerce store, you can see every change made to products. This is great if you have staff helping you out with your store.
You can also track where people are logging in from. And what’s really cool is that all tracking is available in real-time. So there’s no delay between what you’re seeing and what’s happening on your site.
If you go with the premium add-ons, you’ll gain the ability to:
- Get email notifications of important alerts
- Manage users’ sessions and even terminate sessions for individual users.
- Search your audit trail
- Generate reports for various activities
- Store your audits in an external database to improve performance.
Some of these features are available for free in the other plugins, so you might want to consider those options before you make the decision to pay for premium add-ons.
Stream aims to be WordPress’ equivalent of a plane’s black box. It tracks every action committed by logged-in users and makes all of them easy to filter. You can filter by user, role, context, action, or IP address.
With support for Multisite and WP-CLI, Stream seems to be marketed more towards developers keeping tabs on their clients to better support them.
One thing that I like about Stream is that it includes built-in integrations for a bunch of popular plugins including:
- Advanced Custom Fields
- Easy Digital Downloads
- Gravity Forms
- User Switching
- WordPress SEO by Yoast
Of course, it will also have no problem tracking all of the standard WordPress activities.
You can also exclude certain types of tracking if you’re not interested in that data, which is nice for streamlining things.
And if you need to export your data, you can do so either as a CSV or JSON file.
User Activity Log
User Activity Log is a freemium activity tracking plugin with some nifty features.
First off, it can track all of the basic user activities. No different from other plugins here.
But one nice thing is that you can set up email notifications for when a specific user or user role logs into your site.
You can also choose how long to store your log for, which is good for avoiding bloating up your database unnecessarily.
And if you upgrade to the pro version, you’ll get a bunch of cool features like:
- Customizing which events to track
- Better sorting options
- More detailed logs
- The ability to export logs
- Support for plugins like bbPress, WooCommerce, and Contact Form 7
- Custom event log to add support for your own theme or plugin
User Activity Log has the least active installs of any of the plugins on this list, but it does have a nice feature list and interface.
Audit Trail is a popular, but not very well-rated, tracking plugin. It lets you view a basic log of everything going on in your site.
You can also track page visits for all registered users.
Honestly, I don’t think its features stand up to the other plugins on this list. But I’m including it nonetheless because it is one of the more popular options.
Wrapping Things Up
Whether you want to track user activity or just monitor your site to keep it safe from potential hackers, these plugins can help you out.
Overall, I like Activity Log because it comes from Pojo, whom I trust. But Stream and WP Security Audit Log are also very intriguing options. I like that they include support for third-party plugins. Because if you’re using something like WooCommerce, you’ll probably want to track activity there as well.
Additionally, Simple History’s post differential feature is very nifty for quickly figuring out exactly how a post was changed.
Now over to you - do you think WordPress admins should disclose to users when admins are tracking activity? I can see both sides of the argument.