Lorelle said it right when she said there were no plugins she couldn’t live without (except Akismet), and you could even do without Akismet if you turn off comments. She hit the nail right on the head as to why I step out of any ‘What plugin/theme should I use?’ discussions, except when someone asks a specific ‘What plugin should I use to do this…’ version there of.
Out of the box, WordPress has all the major tools you need to start publishing. Turn on Akismet and you are good to go. What happens next is up to the needs and goals of your site.
Out of the box, WordPress needs nothing. It works just fine as is, and you don’t need to do a blessed thing to it. But you want to. And that’s where it all gets messy.
Needs and wants are different things, and few of us need everything we have installed on our sites. I have 27 plugins currently installed on my network. Of those, three are ‘mu-plugins’ that aren’t so much plugins but sitewide functions, nine are network activated, and one is Hello Dolly. I average about 10 of the others per site, and I know that at least Hello Dolly is actually not used at all. Some sites are the only one to use a certain plugin (like the ‘Downloads’ plugin I use here), and others aren’t network activated but are used on many sites (like WordPress SEO and W3TC).
Even here on my network, I have different tools for different sites. Heck, one site has only one additional plugin activated on it!
So when you look at all that, you may wonder if there’s a plugin I can’t live without. The answer is a flat out no, but you’re not asking the right question.
What you need to ask is What features are required for my site?
When someone tells me they want help with their site and what plugins should they use, I tell them “You need to make a list of what features you need. Not want. Need.” There’s a huge difference between the stuff you want, to make your site look cool and neat, and the ones you require for the desired functionality. What a website needs is a way to display content in an easily absorbed way.
People forget the purpose of a website is for people to find your stuff, read it, and help spread the word. Now, if your ‘word’ is videos, then yes, you totally should consider a video plugin. But that’s a need, not a want. A ‘want’ for a video site is a fancy slideshow of New Videos. Look at YouTube, though. They don’t do that. YouTube knows they’re going to get a lot of traffic, so they pull things back to their purpose. They want to show videos, that’s all they do. Obviously they added in a couple wants, which are the ability to comment, vote, favorite etc. Those are pretty minor when you get around to it, in so far as they don’t affect site speed as much as the actual videos do.
For most blogs, you really don’t need plugins. If you pull your site back to the things you must have, you get a better understanding of what your site is. Once you look at your site ‘naked,’ with no plugins at all, you can start to add plugins back in.
Each and every plugin I add has to serve a purpose. Even my RickRoll plugin has a purpose (though its not something that would be on every site I make). The point of a plugin is not ‘Oh look, this is cool!’ but ‘How can it serve me best?’ If I can’t come up with a reason this makes my site better, and I am brutal with myself, I don’t use it.
If you’re going to have a website, it’s incumbent on you that you’re mean to yourself. You hear the horror stories of clients who want all sorts of crazy things on their sites, and there’s a reason a lot of us sit and laugh (and cry) when we read the Oatmeal’s How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell. I push developers to fight back against the crazy, but you clients need to step up and understand that ‘more’ isn’t ‘better,’ and if you’re hiring someone to make a site, you really should listen to their suggestions and recommendations.
But the point in the end is that, to make a website, with WordPress, you need no plugins. What you want is another matter.