How to Manage User Sessions Effectively in WordPress
Have you ever wondered who is logged into your WordPress site or what they’re doing while logged in? For some of you, this curiosity might only pertain to members, customers, and other logged-in users on the frontend of your site. For others, you may need deeper insights into what backend users are doing within the WordPress admin.
Currently, WordPress does not have any native capabilities to track user sessions or activity or to help you exert control over those sessions. So, regardless of what type of user session you want to monitor and manage, you will need a user session control plugin to help you do so. Let’s take a look what options are available and how you can use these for enhanced session control in WordPress.
User Session Control: What You Need to Know
When you think about live monitoring of user sessions in WordPress, your mind may first turn to Google Analytics Real-Time Traffic Monitor.
While this tool will provide you with insights into what’s happening with users on the frontend of your site, it’s delivered in the standard Google Analytics data format. Granted, this data is valuable, but we’re talking about exerting control over user sessions, which means you need more specifics besides the referring source and location. You also need a way to revoke, grant, or adjust access as you monitor these sessions in real time.
If you’re wondering why you would need user session control in WordPress, it ultimately boils down to this:
You want to ensure that users are doing exactly what they should be doing on your WordPress site. Sometimes that means you’re studying their behaviors as customers or users. Sometimes it means you’re watching over users that contribute content to your site from the backend. And sometimes it’s about taking a more active approach to monitoring for fraudulent account activity that could put your WordPress site in harm’s way.
Backend User Session Control
There are two ways in which users can influence your WordPress site: from within the backend admin and from the frontend gateway you’ve opened to them. Let’s focus first on how to maintain backend user session control and why you would want to.
Basically, this type of WordPress user session control will be useful for the admin who has to oversee a growing list of contributors. These could be:
- WordPress developers or designers
- Contributing bloggers
- Content editors and QA
- SEO professionals
- Multisite admins
- General users from the client side
As the list of users grows, it’s important to have a way to watch for who is logging in, how often they log in, and what they do while they’re in WordPress. By automating this with a WordPress plugin or other third-party extension, you can take control and quickly adjust or block access if you believe any access privileges are being abused. You’ll also be able to quickly identify the party responsible for any changes that adversely affected the site (whether intentionally or not).
This is also a good way to keep tabs on who is contributing to the site. Let’s say you paid someone to work on SEO improvements on the site, but you find that there’s no recent login activity. You’ll have an official record you can bring to them when discussing the matter.
In terms of what kinds of tools you can use for this, you have a number of options based on how much control you need to exert and what amount of information you want to gather on your users:
If you recently read my guide on how to get the most out of Defender, you probably already knew about this plugin’s audit logging capabilities. If not, here’s how it works:
Defender will provide you with audit logs regarding user activity within WordPress. Even better, you can create automated reports that deliver these logs straight to your inbox.
This user session tracking tool can provide you with information related to:
- Who logged into WordPress
- What they did within WordPress as it relates to content, media, and so on
- What they did on the backend as it relates to systems and settings
Not only is this a great way to monitor for hackers, but it also allows you to create a record of what other users (like freelancers, employees, or clients) have done. This way, when something goes wrong, you’ll be able to quickly attack and remedy the situation.
For simple user session monitoring and control in WordPress, you can use this plugin. What it does is add a new tab to the Users menu in WordPress called “Sessions”. Within it, you will see a list of all the registered users of the website, along with the following details:
- Email address
- When the last session was created
- When the session is set to expire
- IP address
If you’ve determined that there is a reason to kick a user out of WordPress (e.g. you suspect the account has been hacked, you recently fired the employee, etc.), you can instantly revoke access with a “Destroy Session” option.
There are some premium features available that may interest you as well. Most of them have to do with providing you with insights into IP addresses and geographic locations, but most of that you can manage and control if you use a WordPress security plugin or a geoblocking plugin.
Although this plugin brands itself as a “security” plugin, it can be used for general productivity purposes, too. In terms of what this particular plugin does, here is the basic gist:
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The Audit Log Viewer tells you when an alert has been generated regarding user activity. This is nice since it will help you keep track of security problems in real time. You can also create alerts for any type of changes made to, well, pretty much everything on your site, including:
- Core updates
- WordPress system settings
- Database updates
- Plugins and themes
- Multisite users, websites, and themes
- User profiles
- User logins/logouts
- Page and post content
- bbPress forums
- WooCommerce products
However, in order to see which users are logging in, logging out, updating content, adding new themes, changing settings, etc., you’ll have to upgrade to the premium version of the WP Security Audit Log plugin.
Many WordPress security plugins come with firewalls, brute force protective measures, as well as IP monitoring and blacklisting capabilities. But they don’t always give you granular control over user sessions. This one does.
With the free version of the plugin, you won’t get any details on which users are doing what on the backend of your site. However, it will give you very strict controls over what happens with each session. For instance:
- Set the number of days before an active session times out.
- Set the number of hours to time out an idle session.
- Lock a session to a singular IP address.
- Limit how many simultaneous sessions each user can have.
- Enable an audit trail to monitor for what happens with plugins, themes, posts, pages, and more.
To see what specific usernames and IP addresses are actually doing in WordPress, you will need to go Pro.
The All in One WP Security & Firewall plugin is another security plugin that offers user session control capabilities. This one, however, will give you deep insights without making you pay for access.
Here is what you can do and see in this plugin:
- Set login lockdown procedures after failed attempts.
- Track the IP address and username for all failed lockouts.
- Automatically force lockout if a user exceeds the allowable time in WordPress.
- View login and logout dates and times for all users.
- Monitor your site for users logged in and force a logout on the spot if you suspect something is wrong.
While this plugin does make the process of logging out or blocking users from WordPress easier, it does require you to have a sense for who your users are and what they should be doing when they’re on the site. In other words, this is great for blocking known security threats.
Frontend User Session Control
Next, let’s talk about how and why you would want to monitor and manage user sessions on the frontend of your WordPress site.
Of course, when we talk about the frontend user, we’re referring to anyone you’ve who has access to a user account through your domain. These could be blog subscribers, forum contributors and commenters, registered members, e-commerce customers, and so on. By giving them access to their frontend account, you, in turn, improve their experience as they customize and personalize it as little or as much as they want.
That said, you still want to be able to monitor their activity. You may want to do this for security purposes to ensure that bots and hackers haven’t cracked into a valid user’s account in order to break into your site. You might also want this so you have a better idea of users’ behaviors and trends, and consequently, so you can create an experience better tailored to their needs.
Here is the WordPress plugin you can use for frontend user session control in WordPress:
This premium WordPress plugin is built with the express purpose of giving you better insights into frontend users and customers. This means that if you run a bbPress forum, a course website, a WooCommerce store, a paid membership site, or anything else that relies on heavy user registration and account usage, this is the WordPress plugin for you.
With this plugin, it’s less about blocking fake or harmful activity and more about learning what users really want from your website. Here are some of the features you can use for better session control:
Get real-time data on what your users are looking at, interacting with, and buying.
Organize users into groups based on demographics, behaviors, access permissions, and so on.
Count the number of times users logged into their accounts.
View when their last logged-in session was.
With this user session information in hand–especially when framed in the context of how many purchases were made, classes attended, comments left, etc.–you can make more data-driven decisions regarding your website.
For instance, you may find that users aren’t logging in as frequently as you like. You can A/B test alternative designs to see if it improves the experience. Or, if you know that it takes, on average, five logins before a user makes a purchase, you can work on simplifying the path to conversion. If your goal is to learn more about what your users are doing with each session and who they are, this premium plugin is a good choice.
The one thing I would stress if you add user session control to WordPress is to be mindful of how it affects your site’s performance. Often, this type of tracking has to create and store a unique session ID for everything user and corresponding session.
If your WordPress site has a large amount of traffic and your web server just isn’t equipped to handle those additional requests for resources, you may not want to steer clear of these kinds of plugins. Instead, I would suggest using two alternatives: a WordPress security plugin with IP blocking capabilities and a user access plugin.