These are the first three plugins I set up whenever I’m installing a new WordPress blog. They are the plugins that save my tail when things go wrong, so while they’re not as flashy as some of the other plugins, they get first priority.
Akismet: Any blog owner who’s suffered through a comment/trackback spam-fest without adequate protection will appreciate the value of this plugin. Akismet uses a central server and data from a huge pool of bloggers to identify spam (with amazing accuracy) so you don’t have to wade through it. This plugin comes pre-packaged with the most recent versions of WordPress.
WordPress Database Backup: I keep current copies of most of my website files on my development computer, but unlike templates and core files, the databases are always changing. The Database Backup plugin helps me stay current by giving me the option to download or receive via email a current copy of all of my database info. Most useful when used in conjunction with the next plugin! This plugin comes pre-packaged with the most recent versions of WordPress.
WP-Cron: This plugin takes WordPress Database Backup from a good intention to a life-saver. I believe it’s from the same author, and it integrates perfectly to provide time-based commands; in this case, you can set a time interval (I do “one day”) at which the database will be backed up. I use this plugin to send each and every one of my blog databases to my Gmail account daily. If ever something goes terribly wrong, I have a copy of all of my data that’s guaranteed to be no more than a day old.
These two plugins make it easier for visitors to use the blog and find entries that are relevant to them. That’s always a good thing!
Search Everything: Some blogs won’t need this, but if you have a blog that has a good selection of articles or other content-filled Pages, you need this plugin to provide the best search results to your readers. By default, WordPress just searches Posts and excludes Pages. This plugin includes Pages in search results, making more of your good information readily accessible.
Related Entries: This plugin makes your blog “stickier”; when someone takes the time to read through your post, the plugin show them other similiar posts they might find interesting. Since the recommendations are based on similarity, a site with a lot of good content could inspire a reader to keep clicking and reading all afternoon, all on a topic of interest.
The blog’s visitors may never realize the existance of these plugins, but they are very important to me in fine-tuning the blog and its content.
Feedburner Feed Replacement: I love the statistics and user-friendly interface that Feedburner provides. This plugin takes the default WordPress feeds and routes them to your Feedburner feed, giving you a more complete picture of usage (it’s easier to track when it’s all going through one gateway). It also helps clear up “feed confusion” among readers by providing a human-readable, friendly explanation of what’s going on.
Search Meter: This plugin sits alongside the Dashboard and provides information on what your visitors have searched for (within your blog). This is useful for two reasons. First, you can form a better understanding of your visitors when you know why they came to you. Second, you can get great ideas for future posts by knowing what your visitors expected to find but didn’t. Those are great opportunities.
These plugins make it easier to run a pretty blog. They both automate aspects of the blog’s presentation, aspects that used to have to be managed by hand. This saves a lot of time and encourages blog owners to use features that otherwise might be too much effort to maintain.
Sidebar Widgets: Widgets are an easier way of handling sidebar content. Instead of hand-editing the code to show some specific bit of info, you just drag-and-drop your content to your sidebar (in the admin panel). There is some room for improvement within Widgets, but it has made it far easier to keep the blog periphery current.
Headline Images: Sometimes, you just need a certain font. Since you can’t count on everyone having the font you want to use, an image replacement is your best bet. This plugin lets you dynamically create a graphic version of text from any TTF. This can definitely be overused but is a very nice (and easy!) touch when used in moderation.
This post was partially inspired by the similar list at M and L Adventures. There are several plugins on that list that I haven’t tried, and therefore can’t recommend, but I’m looking forward to getting started with them.