When I first set up my self-hosted WordPress blog, I had no idea how many plugins I’d actually need to just get up and running with some standard functionality (e.g. a live twitter feed and RSS sign-up), Google Analytics, and SEO basics.

I started out by finding dozens of “Top WordPress Plugins” posts clogging up search engines, and many of them list cool plugins, but are hardly complete. I’ve tried to gather a well-rounded set of plugins that you should load when you start your blog, to:

  1. Set up killer SEO
  2. Track traffic
  3. Engage readers
  4. Fill in feature gaps

You’ll be able to find more plugins later that are interesting to you, or make your life easier. In fact, many of these plugins are meant to work with very little input, particularly with respect to SEO. More customizable plugins exist, with many more features, though they can also be quite a bit more complex.

Here, I’ve tried to avoid bells and whistles, and just cover what I find to be the most important stuff.

Improving SEOThese plugins will help you get found in search engines

  1. All In One SEO Pack – This creates a new box in each post page for you to put the Title, Description and Keywords you want crawled by search engines. You may want to have a separate title for search engines (e.g. in the form of a question someone would type into Google like “How do I XYZ?”) while you want to have a pithy, interesting title on the actual post to draw someone in. Also, search engines will otherwise just take the first few sentences of the post as a description, while you can optimize much better for SEO by doing so manually
  2. Google XML Sitemaps – This helps major search engines better index your blog
  3. Efficient Related Posts – It’s important to have more links to other places in your site, to keep folks on your site longer. This puts context-based related posts at the bottom of each post
  4. W3 Total Cache – One of the things that can help your blog out with SEO is making sure it’s as quick to load as possible. Caching plugins like this one can decrease loading time significantly
  5. SEO Smart Links – Automatically links keywords and phrases between posts in your blog, based on context
  6. SEO Friendly Images – Automatically adds alt and title attributes to your images
  7. Redirection – When you change something like a post name or permalink formatting, this plug-in will keep track of your changes and automatically redirect the links you’ve already created, on your site and others. (This will happen more than you expect when you’re tweaking for SEO)
  8. Broken Link Checker – Not many things are more lame than links to nowhere (hurts SEO as well). This plugin checks your site and emails you if a link breaks

Tracking AnalyticsYou need to track how people use your blog to understand how to improve it

  1. Google Analyticator – You’ll need a way to setup your blog with Google Analytics. If it’s good enough for Google to give a shout-out, it’s good enough for me. It’s also really simple – just pop in your Google Analytics ID and that’s basically it. You can also exclude authors from being counted as visitors

Getting others to shareOne important way your blog gets traffic is by engaging others and encouraging them to follow you and share with friends

  1. Sexy Bookmarks – By Shareaholic, an excellent way to let folks share via any one of dozens of social networks or email. Looks great
  2. Subscribe Widget – If not already included in your theme, add RSS, twitter, etc. subscription buttons as a widget
  3. Feedburner FeedSmith – Your WordPress theme may not be optimized to show up well as an RSS feed. Once you sign up for a FeedBurner feed (which optimizes posts to be read as RSS), this plugin will redirect your “www.yourblogname.com/feed” link to FeedBurner. (Download it on Google’s site)
  4. Disqus – Becoming the standard for comments. Used on many major blogs like TechCrunch, Chris Dixon, Fred Wilson, etc.

Why wasn’t this a default feature? – There are a number of plugins that you really shouldn’t have to load yourself…but you do!

  1. WordPress Database Backup – Backup is not an option. Use this simple plugin to download or email yourself backup files on a (very) regular basis. Accounts do get hacked, and hosting services can go down
  2. Image Widget – If this doesn’t come with your theme, you’ll want it to add picture links in the sidebar, like a linked company logo
  3. WordPress Importer – You’ll need this if you’re moving your blog from a free “yourblog.wordpress.com” blog to a self-hosted wordpress blog
  4. AmberPanther Favicon for WordPress – If you don’t want an ugly default Favicon (the little picture in the web browser tab next to your site name) get this to personalize yours
  5. Wickett Twitter Widget – A clean, simple widget to post your Twitter feed. I find many competing Twitter widgets are over-designed (don’t expect bells and whistles here)
  6. WP Mobile Detector – If your WordPress theme isn’t mobile-ready, this plugin auto-detects a mobile device and provides simple mobile theme

Happy blogging!