One of the reasons WordPress is such a great blogging platform is the thousands of plugins available to add to its core functionality. There are so many available that it can be hard to choose which ones to use, and it took me weeks to evaluate the best plugins for providing the functionality I wanted on my blog. To save you having to do the same, here are my essential favourite WordPress plugins that I actually use on my site:
Site Structure And Appearance
Advanced Excerpt generates an excerpt of each post on my home page so visitors can browse recent posts to find what their interested in, and click the Continue Reading link if they want the whole thing.
WP No Category Base gives me a more logical structure with my category archives at: http://grahamstoney.com/categoryname, instead of the usual http://grahamstoney.com/categories/categoryname. Note that WordPress SEO by Yoast now has this feature too.
Redirection allows me to rename articles and move them to different categories without generating 404 errors for my visitors by automatically creating redirects whenever the article slug or category changes. Beware that it's not smart enough to detect and handle changes to your permalink structure automatically though.
When visitors do somehow end up on pages that don't exist, Smart 404 redirects them to the most likely candidate automatically based on keywords in the URL, instead of generating the usual 404 error.
The previous incantation of my blog was built in Joomla!, and I preserved my URL structure so that existing links to the site would still work, without needing redirections. My old URL's had .html suffixes which I wanted to keep old postings, so I need Periods in Titles to allow periods in my slugs. You don't need this if you're starting from scratch.
Shockingly Simple Favicon generates the little favourites icon in the title bar of your browser.
Search Engine Optimisation
If you want your blog to rank well on search engines, you need to pay some attention to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I tried Yoast's Meta Robots plugin, All-in-One SEO Pack and SEO Ultimate. before settling on WordPress SEO by Yoast.
SEO Friendly Images helps deal with my neglect for important image tags.
WP Page Numbers improves the way links to pages of multi-page content are handled.
If you're new to SEO and don't know why these things are important, I recommend Joost de Valk's article on WordPress SEO.
I host this blog on HostGator, because they support multiple sites for low cost. Unfortunately response time on their shared servers is affected by visitors to other sites they host, and the backend database can become a bottleneck.
The solution to this is W3 Total Cache. I recommend enabling Page Cache, Minify, and Browser Cache. Leave the rest disabled unless you're willing to experiment a lot, as they could well slow things down rather than speed them up.
Use Google Libraries loads common libraries from a Google server instead of my site. Not only is Google's server faster, but chances are Google's copy of these libraries is already cached in the user's browser eliminating the need to load them altogether.
Broken links make your site look bad, and Broken Link Checker is the essential solution. I love this plugin! Every time I install it on an existing blog, I find broken links I didn't even know about.
Backing up your site is important. I use WP-DBManager to automatically email me database backups. I can't wait for Akeeba to bring out their WordPress plugin though.
TinyMCE Advanced adds features to the backend editor, like support for tables.
WP Hide Post makes it slightly easier to hide posts that you don't want casual visitors to find easily. This is a half-baked solution though because other plugins don't recognise it: You still need to make sure they don't show up in other places like your sitemap, which is why WordPress really needs a "hidden" page visibility.
Akismet and Bad Behavior help keep my comment spam down to a manageable level. I used to like WP-SpamFree because I automatically subscribe visitors who leave comments to my site newsletter by default and it trapped them before the comment was accepted; but it has disappeared from the plugin directory.
Move WordPress Comments allows me to move a comment to another post when a visitor comments on, or asks a question more relevant to, a different post.
WordPress Firewall 2 protects my site from common attacks.
Social networking is all the rage. If you want to handle lots of social networks, I recommend Network Publisher which can handle pretty much everything. The service costs money, but it does seem to work even in the face of ongoing changes at Facebook that keep breaking other status updating plugins like Status Updater. PuSHPress helps Network Publisher give faster updates.
Since I'm only really interested in Twitter and Facebook, I use Simple Twitter Connect and Simple Facebook Connect to automatically publish my new content updates to these social networks. I recommend you disable OpenGraph tag generation in Simple Facebook Connect though, and enable it in another plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast. You may get an error message when you enable STC during installation; this is because of the way the author includes multiple modules in one plugin. Just activate the Base STC module, then activate the STC - Publish plugin, and any others you need.
If you want a simpler solution to update your Twitter status, WordTwit also worked for me.
Social Media Widget creates the “Connect with me” icons at the top of the sidebar.
The little Facebook Like button is generated by Facebook Like. Who'd have thought?
Subscriptions and Social Bookmarking
The funky pop-up Subscribe widget in the sidebar is by Add-to-Any Subscribe.
The row of sexy bookmarking icons at the bottom of each post are generated by SexyBookmarks.
I want my visitors to be able to find related articles really easily, so I want relevant keywords to turn into hyperlinks between articles without me having to add them all manually. SEO Ultimate's Deeplink Juggernaught goes half-way towards this, but the best solution I found is SEO Smart Links Pro. You may even get away with the free SEO Smart Links.
I use RB Internal Links for the rare cases where automatic linking doesn't work. It saves the links using shortlinks that work even if the article title slug or category changes.
I've never understood why WordPress generates annoying pingbacks between articles on the same site, but I use No Self Pings to turn them off.
The list of popular posts in the footer is generated by WordPress Popular Posts.
Semilogic's Do Follow plugin bucks the trend of adding the nofollow attribute to outgoing links, so that the targets I recommend benefit and making me a better net citizen.
Advertising and Affiliate Links
I use Advertising Manager to embed Google Ads in my sidebar.
On some sites, I use Amazon Product In a Post to display the book and movie cover images from Amazon.com automatically, along with affiliate links for book and movie review postings. I've had some problems with it though, so nowadays I prefer Amazon Reloaded which is less slick, but more flexible.
Amazon Affiliate Link Localizer directs visitors to the relevant Amazon site for their international location.
I also wanted my affiliate links generated and redirected automatically, so I use SEO Smart Links Pro which I chose after evaluating a number of automatic keyword affiliate link generator plugins.
Attracting and Keeping Visitors
I have lots of offsite links and I don't want visitors to navigate away from my site when they open them, so I use Open in New Window Plugin to make all offsite links open in a new window.
RSS Footer adds a line to my RSS feed reminding readers to visit the site, and linking back to me even if bad people scrape my content via RSS.
WP Polls is a fun way to add polls to a site, which helps engage visitors.
That's it so far. If you have a favourite plugin you think I should use, leave me a comment to let me know about it.