One can very easily argue that for any WordPress website to be successful, it must deliver on three things – value, security, and experience. These three tenets are foundational blocks that any WordPress owner undoubtedly works on. Without either, a website is sure to meet its demise sooner or later.
However, value, security, and user experience need to be maintained. Invariably this involves continuous monitoring, testing, and improving upon existing processes, mechanisms, and assets.
In this cycle, monitoring takes center stage. It is the process from which we can glean the data we need to make the necessary changes and adjustments. To this end, a 360-degree approach would be the more beneficial approach, as it allows us to determine the relationships between components and their performance (or lack thereof).
This article will be looking at five must-have tools for 360-degree admin WordPress monitoring, including why we need them, their benefits, and how they contribute to a healthier website.
Even the more modest WordPress installations are hubs of ongoing activity. Users, customers, plugins, and the system itself are all making changes, uploading, updating, and taking a myriad of other actions day in and day out. If this sounds daunting, don’t let it intimidate you. Think of your WordPress website like a little (or big) city, of which you are the mayor.
Like any good mayor, you need to keep tabs on what is going on in your city. After all, how will you be able to anticipate problems or fix them once they arise?
Activity logging is a process through which a log of activity that goes on your website is kept. WordPress does not offer this functionality out of the box, but fortunately, several plugins exist that give us this functionality.
Plugins come in all shapes and sizes. As such, you will need to shop around a bit before choosing the best activity log plugin for your WordPress website. In essence, however, plugins come in two flavors – specific and general. Specific plugins offer a narrow logging scope and can only track a handful of things. On the other hand, general plugins provide a broader scope. They can collect all sorts of information from different actors, processes, and components.
The good news is that there isn’t necessarily a trade-off that you need to do. WP Activity Log is an activity log plugin for WordPress that offers a vast logging scope. It even comes with extensions that allow you to track activities from third-party plugins such as WooCommerce. Additionally, it has a very intuitive and clean user interface. You can choose exactly what you want to track – and what you don’t.
Activity logs on WordPress websites offer many benefits. Whether it’s failed logins, changes to posts, pages, and other types of content, not only does it give you a clear picture of what is going on, but it can also help you troubleshoot issues should something happen.
Performance can make or break users’ experiences. However, it can also affect other factors, including SEO, sales, and monetization, among others. Because of this, monitoring website performance is something that should be an ongoing priority.
There are different types of performance monitoring, including synthetic and real. While these two are similar in that they monitor similar metrics, but they go about it in very different ways.
WordPress synthetic monitoring
In WordPress synthetic monitoring, we create a testing plan then execute it by emulating certain users’ behaviors. Instead of waiting for actual users to do the things we want to test, we carry out those actions ourselves and synthetically monitor the performance.
The advantage of synthetic monitoring is that we get detailed results straight away. The disadvantage is that there is no continuous monitoring, so we won’t be alerted should the website experience degradations or go offline.
WordPress real monitoring
In WordPress real monitoring, a system continuously monitors our WordPress, looking a usage metrics, performance, uptime, etc. This type of monitoring is also known as RUM – Real User Monitoring.
The biggest advantage of RUM is that your WordPress website is being constantly monitored. As such, you can rely on the service to alert you whenever a problem occurs, rather than having to check it yourself manually. On the other hand, its main drawback is that if you want to test specific things, you need to wait for an actual visitor or user to do that before you can get any data.
Monitoring services come in different flavors with different feature sets. There may also be differences in the metrics they can capture. Website monitoring services such as Pingdom not only offer both synthetic and real monitoring, but have a very extensive feature set and library of metrics that allow you to monitor pretty much anything.
WordPress Security is a vast subject, with no one solution that allows you to monitor every aspect of security. However, this does not mean that we should abandon hope and let things be. On the contrary, it means we need to give it even more attention. But where do we start?
The first distinction that we need to make, if we are to make any headway, is the difference between the infrastructure and the application. In this context, the infrastructure refers to those services that allow us to deliver the application, which in this case is WordPress itself.
The infrastructure that WordPress relies on can be quite complex. There’s the webserver, PHP, MySQL, and the server itself. This list excludes those things that are out of our control, including the routers, connections, delivery networks, etc. Of course, what might fall under your responsibility might change, depending on how your website is hosted.
Either way, the first step you should undertake is to harden WordPress. While it is best practice to do so, this will also help you ensure that even if you’re not able to undertake extensive monitoring, WordPress is as secure as it can be.
Security plugins, such as Sucuri and Wordfence, offer monitoring and auditing tools that can help you ensure a secure environment.
Logs, such as those offered by WP Activity Log and Apache itself, can supplement the information provided by security plugins. You might also want to consider a Log Management Service such as Loggly to collate all of your logs into one central location, making it that much easier to understand the bigger picture and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
At its very core, WordPress is an app. It is built using PHP, which is the same programming language used to develop themes and plugins. This means that PHP errors could affect the crucial functionality of your website. As such, you should be monitoring them regularly.
This is not to say that all PHP errors are going to bring your site down. Warning and Notice errors will not stop scripts from executing, and everything will continue to run. On the other hand, as the name suggests, Parse and Fatal errors will terminate the script. Either way, monitoring all types of errors can help you ensure a healthy website now and in the future.
Errors can be caused by different environmental variables, including incompatible updates, outdated components, and others. While making sure you choose themes and plugins that are updated frequently and running updates on time can alleviate the risk, staying on top of things can help you prevent problems before they arise.
You can monitor PHP errors in different ways, including subscribing to error monitoring services, running scripts, or downloading a plugin.
In the latter case, plugins such as WP Umbrella make it super easy to set up error monitoring and include slack or email alerts to keep you informed on the go without having to tie yourself to your computer.
WordPress uses a system of folders and files and a database to manage information. Generally speaking, articles and settings go in the database while everything else, including code, plugins, images, etc., go into folders and files.
Since all of the code is stored in these files, adequate monitoring of file changes on WordPress websites is paramount in ensuring that all files remain intact. Equally, it will help you pick up any WordPress leftover files before they become a liability and suss out any malware injected during an attack.
The Website File Changes Monitor Plugin for WordPress can help you keep an open eye on your files. Email notifications help you stay in the loop without having to schedule monitoring time. This setup and forget system can help you reclaim lost hours by only alerting you whenever your attention is required.
Choosing the right tools for you is easier than you might think
When it comes to choosing a tool, the one-size-fits-all model might not always be the best approach. Every WordPress administrator has different goals they want to reach, metrics they need to follow, and constraints such as budget and time that they need to adhere to. As such, you might find that not every plugin is a good fit for you. However, understanding a few key things can help you make sure that you pick the right plugin for your needs every time.
A low-cost plugin that promises to deliver the world on a silver platter isn’t going to get you very far unless it proves itself to be a reliable tool. Make sure you check how often the plugin gets updates and visit the developer’s website to see how serious they are about their product. Customer ratings can also be a good indicator of how the community at large feels about that plugin.
The scope of what you want to monitor can also help you decide which plugin you get. A small niche website might not need an all-the-frills plugin that a large website might need. On the other hand, a plugin with a high degree of configuration options might benefit websites large and small. This is especially true if growth plans are on the horizon.
Different plugins come with different functions such as alerts, third-party plugin support, reporting, filtering, and additional functionality. Some plugins may also include such functionality as a premium feature. Here, you need to make sure that you assess your current needs to avoid overspending while investing in something that can grow with you. In the long run, this is by far the most cost and resource-efficient option.