Updated May 24, 2015.
Plugins and widgets add functionality to your blog. They are easy to search, upload and use, and best of all, there are tons of free plugins and widgets out there. The following are critical to keep my wordpress site running, provide good customer experience and keep me out of trouble with search engines.
You can find yourself flooded by spam overnight and this is bad, especially for SEO: Google will consider you as guilty as a spammer if you allow spammy messages in your site. Just this year they released Pay Day Loan, and algorithm that will hunt down all spam messages related to pay day loans and casinos, and sexual enhancement. So you better not allow any of these in your site. Akismet does it for you. Akismet asks for a donation if possible, and they will provide you with a key that you can use with several blogs.
2. Site backup
When you are your own webmaster you need to learn new things constantly and mistakes happen. Especially if you want to make changes to your CSS. You need to back up your site regularly just in case it disappears so you don´t lose your hard work. I found that backup by blogVault has good reviews. Or Vaultpress. I just use Backwpup.
3. Super cache
Another critical function for your blog unless you want to feel how painful is a slow site, especially if you use wordpress. If I were an engineer I would probably use other solutions than plugins, but I am not so Wp super cache works just fine for me.
4. Customize 404 error page
Google sent me a message a while ago through Webmaster Tools, saying that they could not find a customized 404 or error page in my site and encouraging me to add one. A page that says something nice like “sorry about this, please go to the home page and search there”… With a customized error page you can still try to take them to your site so you don’t lose customers. And you don’t want to be penalized in SEO for something like this. You can find many plugins for this function, I just selected Customize your 404 Error Page for WordPress, which is not the most attractive design. Shop around and let me know if you find better options!
5. Archivo Sitemap xml
When you have a new website, the first thing you need for SEO is to be verified by Google and submit and XML sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools and other search engines. The map will tell search engines how your site is structured so they can crawl where you want them to do it.
To get your sitemap you can either use some service like XML Sitemaps (free up to 500 pages) or you can install a plugin in your blog. Both options will provide you with urls that you need to submit to search engines.
What I like about plugins is that they will ping search engines as you create new content, so they include it in the sitemap. Plugins can operate with the search engines you want.
I consider the five plugins above critical for my website. The following two are important too although at a user level. Attracting your users to your site is key, and retaining them is your next goal.
6. “Follow us on” widget
This is an absolute must for me: Your social networks icons in the most visible part of your blog: as close to the header as possible (on the header if possible). Your Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc. accounts need to be as visible as possible so people can follow you. Remember that the more followers you have in your networks, the bigger your reach, your potential audience. We all know how difficult it is to increase followers in a Facebook fan page, so if you can add a nice “like” widget below those “Follow Us”, it will help you even more.
Email is a powerful tool. Don´t forget to add a Subscribe widget in a visible part of your website so you can send your freshest posts and make sure that your audience grows and grows because, let´s face it: we all want to have many followers and become influencers.
My last piece of advice: be selective with your widgets and plugins because they slow down your site. There are so many that you will feel tempted to add a lot of them. There are plugin packages like Jetpack that include some of these functionalities but I prefer to choose plugins and widgets individually. Or if you decide to go for Jetpack because you love the connection with worpress.com, Publicize me -which will send your post to your social networks the second you hit publish– or the cool stats, know that you can choose which to activate.