When I left law firm life to start an entrepreneurial venture, I learned that blogging, and not a static website, was the way to go. After a series of trial and many errors, I settled on the popular WordPress platform and never looked back. Self-taught smattering of coding made me more dangerous than useful. Help arrived in the form of plugins.

I discovered a massive community of generous WordPress developers who created a wide range of useful plugins to extend the functionality of my blog. But with over 16,000 plugins, a new round of trial and error commenced. It’s still going on. Here are a dozen can’t-miss plugins that emerged from that experience.

Behind the scenes

Akismet – Comment spam is an unfortunate price of website success.Used by millions, Akismet protects your blog by checking comments and trackback for spam and automatically moving them over to a spam folder. Aksimet dashboard shows statistics of your spam, missed spam, real spam and other variables. No WordPress blog should be without this plugin.

Google XML Sitemaps – A sitemap helps search engines to crawl your blog effectively. This plugin automatically generates a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.

W3 Total Cache – Speeds load times by delivering fresh blog data only as needed. W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by improving your server performance, caching every aspect of your site and reducing the download times.

All in One SEO Pack – Considered a WordPress essential, this plugin automatically optimizes your WordPress blog for Search Engines. With it, you can give your page an SEO-friendly title (which shows up at the top of a Web browser), homepage description (which appears beneath your URL when people search for it via Google or other engine), and keywords related to your topic.

Enhanced functionality

WP-Table Reloaded – If you work with graphs and charts, this terrific plugin is a must-have. WordPress doesn’t work well with tables and spreadsheets, and WP-Table Reloaded allows you to create and easily manage tables in the admin-area of WordPress. A comfortable backend allows an easy manipulation of table data. You can then include the tables into your posts, on your pages or in text widgets. Tables can be imported and exported from/to CSV, XML and HTML.  A favorite of mine.

WordPress Database Backup – Data loss is a constant fear. Remove that fear by scheduling automatic or on-demand backups with this plugin.

Efficient Related Posts – The lifespan of a post has been measured in hours. Extend it by including links to related, helpful posts on your site. This plugin automates the process.

Clean-Contact – So many form generating plugins to choose from, many useful, but just about all quite complicated to get started. If you want a simple contact form to do just that, check out this no hassle plugin with advanced spam protection.

Look and feel

Add Post Footer – This plugin automatically places an optional custom block where you can add author bios, related links, advertisements, or other items for display at the end of every post.

WPtouch – Automatically transform your WordPress blog into an iPhone application-style theme, complete with ajax loading articles and effects, when viewed from iPhone, iPod touch, Android, Palm Pre, Samsung touch and BlackBerry Storm/Torch mobile devices. It includes the ability for visitors to switch between WPtouch view and your site’s regular theme. A terrific plugin.

Widget Logic – A great feature of WordPress blogs is the ability to add columns with widgets to pages. But without diving into the code, those columns and widgets remain the same on every page. This plugin lets you control on which pages the widget will appear. Very useful

Maintenance Mode – If you’re like me and love to fiddle with the look and feel of your blog, this is a great plugin that adds a splash page that lets visitors know your blog is down for maintenance. Logged in administrators get full access to the blog including the front-end.

There are many other great plugins – free and premium –  to help you improve the functionality of our blog and provide an enhanced user experience for your visitors, but these free gems will help you get started. If you have a favorite plugin that I haven’t mentioned, please share in the comments section below.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thatcanadiangirl/3556391164/)