5 Myths About WordPress Activity Logs Explained

  • Aug 13, 2019
  • 0
  • by Alex Ali

It’s easy to assume that activity logs are something only a few websites can benefit from, or that they include far too much data to sort through. However, these assumptions are incorrect. Any type of website can benefit from having an activity log, from the smallest to the most complex.

Understanding how activity logs work is the first step to using one successfully. With the right WordPress activity log plugin, you’ll never miss anything that happens on your website again. Plus, you can cut through the noise by disabling the events you don’t want the plugin to track.

In this article, we’re going to break down what activity logs are and why you can benefit from them. Then we’ll dismantle five common myths about WordPress activity logs, so you’ll know what to expect. Let’s get to it!

What Are WordPress Activity Logs (And Why You Need One)

Maintaining an activity log enables you to track specific kinds of events on your website. When it comes to WordPress, that can include any or all of the following:

  • User logins, and any changes made through the dashboard
  • Plugin and theme updates, installs, and removals
  • Changes to specific posts, pages, or custom post types (such as WooCommerce store & products changes)
  • Edits to core WordPress files

All of this information can come in handy in a wide variety of situations. For example, let’s say that you encounter an error on your website. It could be a page that isn’t loading, a feature that’s stopped working, and so on. An activity log can help you troubleshoot the issue faster, by making it easy to locate the most recent changes that were made (and who was responsible for them).

Of course, that’s just one of many potential scenarios. Overall, activity logs are a boon because they provide a play-by-play of everything that occurs on your website. The key is knowing how to sort through that information and understand it, so you can focus on the data you really care about. As for how to implement this functionality in WordPress, you have to use a WordPress activity log plugin, since WordPress doesn’t include such functionality by default.

5 Myths About WordPress Activity Logs Explained

There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to activity logs. With the right tool, however, you shouldn’t have to worry about the downsides you’ll commonly hear about. To illustrate the point, let’s walk through some popular myths and debunk them.

1. “Activity logs are only for large websites”

With this first myth, the thinking goes something like this: “I run a small website, with not a lot of content or traffic So, I don’t need an activity log to keep track of everything”.

As in most cases, there’s a kernel of truth to that myth. When you have a small website, it’s easier to keep track of changes and updates. The problem is that, on a platform with a lot of moving parts like WordPress, there’s often more going on in the background than you might imagine.

activity log

Without an activity log, you might miss a lot of important events, such as:

  1. Someone trying to brute force their way into your website
  2. An attack that modifies your WordPress core files
  3. Other users with dashboard access, making changes you didn’t approve

In these scenarios, you might not know that anything has happened until long afterward. With an activity log, on the other hand, all three types of events would be dutifully recorded and laid out for you to analyze.

2. “They’re only necessary for websites with multiple users”

If you run a website entirely on your own, it’s understandable why you wouldn’t think you need an activity log. After all, you should be the only one causing activity on your website (aside from comments).

That’s partially true, but this myth it still wrong because a lot of things outside of your control can affect your website. We’ve already covered the potential security issues, but you’ll also have to contend with the fact that you might make some errors all on your own, such as:

  1. Deleting or modifying core files in a way that affects your website
  2. Updating a theme or a plugin, and not realizing that it caused compatibility issues
  3. Accidentally modifying a post or a page in a way you didn’t intend, and saving those changes

Those situations all have something in common. If you don’t recognize the problem right away, you might forget what you did that caused it. Fortunately, a quick check of your activity log can help you trace the source of the problem to its core.

All you have to do, in most cases, is work your way backwards through recent events until you find something suspicious:

audit log

If you have an idea where to start looking, you can even search in the activity logs and filter events according to their categories. That will help you narrow in on the issue much more quickly.

3. “There’s too much information to sort through”

Ultimately, what intimidates people the most about activity logs is the sheer amount of data they contain. If you’re using a tool that tracks everything that happens on your website, that log can quickly come to resemble a massive unwieldy spreadsheet.

The truth of the matter is that activity logs can be overwhelming at first. However, they can also be easier to manage than you might imagine, owing to three factors:

  1. All events are recorded in order, so you can use timestamps to narrow the field.
  2. There are some events you can ignore, depending on what type of information you’re after.
  3. Depending on what tool you use, you can filter events and set notifications for the most important activity.

That last factor is a major selling point. Since no one wants to spend hours sorting through logs, you can streamline the task by configuring email and SMS notifications based on activity log events:

notification user logs

Depending on what tool you use, you should be able to configure email notifications. That way, when something important happens on your website, you can sprint into action without delay.

4. “Activity logs are too complicated for novice WordPress users”

We’ve talked a lot about how you can configure your activity log so the data it contains is easier to use and navigate. However, you might hear that and still think that an activity log will be too hard to pick up and configure if you’re new to WordPress.

However, in reality the data collection process is largely automated. All you have to do is install the plugin, and it will start keeping track of events that happen from that point forward. You shouldn’t need to go through a complicated setup process, and pre-existing technical or WordPress knowledge isn’t necessary.

Of course, you’ll still need to spend some time tweaking your activity log’s settings, if you want to get the most out of it:

activity log settings

That means filtering events you don’t care about, configuring notifications, and more. However, this process doesn’t have to take long, and once it’s completed your activity log will go on working quietly in the background.

5. “Activity logs can’t help protect my website”

Out of all the myths concerning WordPress logs, this one is perhaps closest to the truth. An activity log, won’t help you stop attacks on your website per se. What it can do is let you know as soon as anything out of the ordinary happens, so you can react immediately.

user sessions

That level of awareness over what’s happening on your website can come in handy both when someone is trying to attack your site, and for forensic purposes when cleaning up after a successful breach. In the first situation, you can configure email alerts and take measures to protect your website. In the second, you can mitigate the damage to your website by reverting to recent backup, or deleting any malicious files left behind.

Without an activity log, it can be hard to detect attacks on your website unless they’re very obvious (such as someone defacing your home page). However, with access to logs and notifications, even if someone does get in, they shouldn’t be able to do much damage before you catch them.

Keep in mind, however, that a WordPress activity log is not a replacement for good security practices or vice versa. Rather, it’s a vital part of your overall security plan, which will enable you to shore up your defenses even further.

Myths Busted: WordPress Activity Logs Help You Better Manage and Secure Your Website

There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to activity logs. People think that very few websites can benefit from keeping a WordPress activity log, or that the log will be difficult to navigate. The former isn’t true, and the latter depends on which WordPress activity log plugin you choose.

In reality:

  1. Activity logs are useful for both small and large websites.
  2. They’re necessary for sites with multiple users, and those with only one.
  3. A quality plugin will provide features to let you sort through information quickly.
  4. Even novice WordPress users can pick up and start using this kind of tool easily.
  5. An activity log is a key part of your site’s security infrastructure.

Do you have any questions about how to get started with WordPress activity logs? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!

Image credit: Pixabay.

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