The following list is a collection of the WordPress plugins that I find absolutely indispensable for the most basic blog. My view is that there are several factors that make a WP plugin particularly helpful.

What I value the most is generally a combination of the following criteria:

  • The plugin works out of the box or requires very little configuration.
  • Allows for an easy mechanism to import custom CSS styles.
  • Makes intelligent use of WP perks, such as: [shortcodes], kitchen sink integration, uses widgets, dashboard panels, etc
  • It has a reasonable code maturity or history of updates in the WP Plugin directory.
  • Does not try to pitch you any kind of pro, premium or whathaveyou fancypants editions as an extra.

    Hopefully you'll find some of these as helpful as I do.

  • Jetpackhttp://jetpack.me/ brings some of the benefits of the hosted WordPress.com services to your self-maintained environment. A bit of a meta-plugin, since it covers quite a lot of scope with independent components:

    • Sharedaddy; Provides nicely embedded social media sharing buttons to your posts. It comes with the most popular options already built-in (facebook, twitter, reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, email, and print) but it also allows you to define your own services.
    • Shortcode embeds; The most straightforward way to embed content from external sources: youtube, vimeo, flicker, scribd, etc
    • Wordpress.com Stats; Hooks up to your WordPress.com account and integrates the results as part of your dashboard. Google Analytics it ain't, but it requires not much of a setup and it works right out of the box.
    • Twitter widget; Displays twitter updates within a standard WP widget.
    • WP.me Shortlinks; Integrates Wordpress' own url shortening service within your theme options.
    • LaTeX; If you are l33t enough to now LaTeX, you'll probably love this little helper.
    • After the Deadline; Checks spelling, grammar, and style when publishing new content.
  • Google Analytics for WordPresshttp://yoast.com/wordpress/google-analytics An incredibly powerful plugin to get the most out of Google Analytics.

  • Wordpress SEO by Yoasthttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-seo/ From the same guys as the previous entry, this is yet another brilliant plugin that helps with all of your SEO-related needs.

    • The plugin allows to configure the generation of meta tags and integrates Canonical URLs.
    • Generates Linkdex Page Analysis reports.
    • Keeps your sitemap.xml updated, adds it the robots.txt, and automatically notifies Google and Bing of any changes.
    • Optimises your RSS to include links to the original article and it does a whole lot more.
  • Thickboxhttp://www.semiologic.com/software/auto-thickbox/ Any Web 2.0 site worth its salt needs some kind of JavaScript-based cute-looking pop ups for images. The problem with this functionality is that it is so commonplace, that you can easily get lost by the amount of plugins that cater for this.

    Auto Thickbox excels with the fact that it doesn't require any configuration at all, it just works. You only need to activate it and make sure that you add your images with the "file URL" link, that's all.

  • Breadcrumb NavXThttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/breadcrumb-navxt has plenty of configuration options, but its beauty lies within its simplicity. Introduce this little snippet somewhere in your template, (typically header.php) and you're good to go.

    
  • NextGEN Gallery, http://nextgen-gallery.com/ If the site at hand is particularly heavy on the use of images this is definitely a must-have. It mainly provides a mechanism to manage all your pictures with galleries and albums that you might define, it comes with a lot of bells & whistles

    • Supports custom templates to match your theme
    • AJAX-based thumbnail generator
    • Automatically generates slide shows and image browsers
    • Imports image meta data
    • Sortable images/albums
    • Add watermarks
    • Picks up files that are uploaded straight through FTP.
    • And it even piggybacks Yoast's SEO plugin above to include image URLs in the sitemap.
    • Yes, it is pretty bloody good.

And that's it, with some of these plugins and a suitable theme you can really put together a very comprehensive CMS in fairly decent turn around.