Maintenance and the ‘big ball of mud’

A shop window is a good analogy for a website: a shop window display unchanging year in, year out, becomes less attractive than one that changes routinely. Window displays are usually planned, so it’s a good idea to follow this practice and set up a calendar of promotions for the next six months or year.


After your website is launched it should receive routine tender loving care or it will lose its freshness and freshness is a part of SEO.

This is less of a problem with catalogue websites because usually the catalogue range will change. Even so the home page should change at least with the seasons appropriate to your industry. Adding content like white papers is another way of showing that the site is not dormant.


Some maintenance issues can be flagged up with software or web-based tools and that is a time-saver.

The problem is that software or web-based tools tend to be a bit eager and flag up the same error multiple times. For example, if you have a broken link in the common navigation bar of your 30-page website, you will get 30 errors shown where there is really only one.

Check for broken links at least monthly

It’s remarkable how often links get broken, particularly links to external sites. You could be excused for not spotting a broken external link, but there is little excuse for missing an internal one.

It’s not good to have visitors or search engines find broken links before you do. One way to find broken links is to use the World Wide Web organisation link checker:

Validating your pages

Ideally you should only need to validate the whole site when it’s new, and then individual pages if they get changed.

To look for errors in the HTML markup, you can validate your pages using the World Wide Web organisation validator at: where you can enter each page address in turn and see if it passes.

Check that all images have alt (ie alternative text) attributes set

Within the image tag on the page is the option for an ‘alt’ attribute. This is an opportunity for you to place additional relevant text.

The alt attribute is principally used by screen readers for the visually impaired, so should reflect what is in the picture. That said, it’s usually possible to construct alternative text for images that also reinforces your message.

Image tag code takes the form:

<img src="/i/myimage100x30.jpg" width="100" height="30" alt="An alternative description with relevant words" />

and you may be able to pick these off when editing your source code or content management system.

The big ball of mud

This term is borrowed from software development (hey, a website is code) and was coined by Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder.

As your website gets older, it will accrete bits and bobs, have some things deleted and over time turn into a big ball of mud.

This is actually a quite well-known effect and not at all unusual. Big balls of mud still work and generate income but, partly because they are a maintenance nightmare, become out of date and start not to meet visitor expectations – a UXO issue – leaving you open to being at a competitive disadvantage.

There is no business case for fixing a big ball of mud just to please a website designer or software developer. Instead revamps or rewrites should be considered in the context of a strategic whole-business plan encompassing marketing, online and offline promotions, user experience (UX) and so forth.

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