Charlie Gordon’s expensive website attracted just 18 visits per day

While perusing the stats for my blogs, I noticed that one of the referrers was this URL: I clicked through to see what it was all about. To my astonishment, I was taken directly to the Webalizer stats for Charlie Gordon’s website.

This seems quite unusual to me. To access these stats for my websites, I need to log in with a password. Surely most other people do for their websites as well. But for the most expensive website for an MSP, such basic security measures do not seem to be in place. When you consider the possibility that search logs may contain constituents’ sensitive information, it seems to be quite an oversight.

There is one upside though. This free access to Charlie Gordon’s stats does give us the ability to calculate just how much value for money the taxpayer is getting out of his website.

For those who missed it, last month the Scottish Parliament released MSPs’ expense claims. The Scottish Parliament website allows you to search for expense claims by category. One of the categories is ‘Website Costs’, giving us the ability to see just what MSPs are spending on their websites.

It made the news that Charlie Gordon’s website was the most expensive of all the MSPs — by a very long way. Duncan Cumming conducted a full analysis. Charlie Gordon claimed £12,822.62 in website costs for the financial year 2007–2008. The next largest claim was by John Wilson, who claimed £2,291.25 — less than a fifth of what Charlie Gordon claimed.

For what it’s worth, Charlie Gordon released a statement on his website. There is no permalink for it, so you will have to scroll down — it’s (erroneously) dated 23 January 2008. It says: “My website costs for 2007/08 were around £1,700; not £12,900 as stated erroneously on the Scottish Parliament’s website!”

The MSP claims that only 20% of the costs outlined by the Scottish Parliament went on the website itself, the rest being paid for “call handling”. It is worth pointing out that even if we take Charlie Gordon’s claims at face value, a £1,700 claim would still make his website the second most expensive MSP’s website.

Here are the full details of the expense claims as laid out by the Scottish Parliament:

Claim Month: November 2007
Amount: £1,709.38

Claim Month: October 2007
Amount: £1,441.61

Claim Month: November 2007
Amount: £11.80

Claim Month: September 2007
Amount: £1,200.00

Claim Month: August 2007
Amount: £1,932.00

Claim Month: July 2007
Amount: £11.80

Claim Month: June 2007
Amount: £1,152.00

Claim Month: July 2007
Amount: £1,032.00

Claim Month: April 2007
Amount: £11.80

Claim Month: April 2007
Amount: £804.00

Claim Month: May 2007
Amount: £708.00

Claim Month: March 2008
Amount: £144.00

Claim Month: January 2008
Amount: £1,464.00

Claim Month: December 2007
Amount: £1,044.43

Claim Month: September 2007
Amount: £11.80

The pongy whiff intensifies when you read the press reports which noted that GMG Solutions is in fact run by Charlie Gordon’s son, Gavin. As Heather from Idea15 noted, GMG Solutions “does not have a web site, a portfolio, or any basic contact information, and from that we can infer that they do not exist.”

Heather was none too impressed by the website:

It’s done in table layout, its base colour is flamingo pink, it uses Flash for basic navigation buttons, and it has 45 basic coding errors. Worryingly, there are no analytics counters or codes, which means the MSP neither knows nor cares why people might be reading his site.

Moreover, the poor design of the website means that it actually may be in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

As Heather pointed out, the navigation buttons are Flash files. This is totally unnecessary, limits web accessibility and makes it more difficult for Google and other search engines to find pages.

Indeed, Charlie Gordon’s stats show that in January 2009, while the home page accounted for 1,792 hits, the eight navigation buttons (which appear on every page of the website, not just the home page) accounted for an average of just 1,324 hits. This is a clear indication that many users are unable to properly navigate through the site. This could be easily diagnosed by a quick look at the statistics (as I have just done), yet no action has been taken to remedy it.

In fairness, there are plain text links at the bottom of the page. But why should users be made to scroll all the way to the bottom of each page just to navigate through the website? The plain text links should instead be at the top of the page, where the Flash buttons currently are.

Charlie Gordon's Webalizer stats
Guess when people became interested in Charlie Gordon’s website?

January’s stats for Charlie Gordon’s website show a huge spike on 23 January, the day the expense claims were released. Traffic did not return to normal levels until the very end of the month, so I will look at the period 1 January 2009–22 January 2009.

Between those dates, Charlie Gordon’s website received an average of just 54.8 visits per day. The maximum was 80 visits on 5 January. The minimum was 0 visits, achieved on both 17 and 18 January. These are outliers, so I assume that the website was down on these days. So even with Charlie Gordon spending £13,000 £1,700 per year, he can not arrange a vaguely reliable service. Considering the website is supposed to be a valuable resource to his constituents, this is a poor show.

The statistics for the whole of December 2008 are not much better. The website received just 63.7 visits per day that month.

We don’t yet know what Charlie Gordon claimed in website expenses for January 2009 or December 2008. But we do know that his largest claim in one month for the 2007–2008 financial year was £1,932.00 in August 2007. The public also has access to his web stats for that month, allowing us to calculate just how much value for money his constituents are getting out of his website.

Charlie Gordon’s website received 561 visits throughout the month of August 2007. This translates to just 18.1 visits per day. It is worth remembering that all Webalizer stats include robots (i.e. non-human visitors) such as Googlebot. As such, all of these visitor statistics are generous estimates!

Making the calculation, we can see that Charlie Gordon spent £3.44 per visit on his website that month. Even if we accept Charlie Gordon’s assertion that the website costs were in fact 20% of what the Scottish Parliament lists, this is still 69p per visit to the website (including robots). This is quite simply extortionate.

For comparison, I will use the same methodology to analyse the costs of my websites. I actually make more money on my websites than I spend on them, but I understand that advertising may not be an option on a publicly funded MSP’s website. So I will look solely at the costs of running my websites. This, too, is slightly flawed because I don’t pay anyone any wages to maintain my websites. This is purely my blood, sweat and tears, and maybe MSPs are too busy to do that. It is, nonetheless, an interesting exercise that will bring Charlie Gordon’s figures into perspective.

For the month of December 2008 I paid £7.67 (and £1.50 of this was a charge for using my debit card) for webhosting to last me for that month. I ran six websites during that month. During that time, these websites received 75,849 visits in total according to the same Webalizer package. This translates to a cost of £0.0001 (one hundredth of a penny) per visit. This is infinitesimal compared to Charlie Gordon’s figure of £3.44 69p per visit.

Incidentally, figures provided by Webalizer are much larger than any figures provided by any other stats package which excludes robots. Google Analytics, for instance, counts only human visits. It says that my sites collectively received 11,184 visits during the month of December 2008. This is just 14.7% of the figure given to me by Webalizer.

Assuming Charlie Gordon receives the same ratio of robot visitors to human visitors as I do, this would give him just 2.7 visitors per day for August 2007. As Heather pointed out, there appear to be no analytics codes installed on Charlie Gordon’s website, so we’ll never know just how many visitors Charlie Gordon gets or got. But it really could be as few as three per day or less.

I am not an MSP who is providing a potentially vital public service to his constituents. Nor am I a professional web designer. Yet I manage to get many more visitors, and spend much less money. £1,700 per year for a website is, quite frankly, a rip off. Taxpayers would have every right to be furious — especially since the taxpayer seems to be less than attracted to his website.

I previously covered Charlie Gordon’s website on the Scotweb2 blog.


  1. “Moreover, the poor design of the website means that it actually may be in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.”

    I have to do accessibility audits quite often in my job, and the site fails in one important respect: you cannot navigate it with a keyboard alone. The body has focus when tabbing, but you cannot access the page or any of the links.



  2. I have to disagree regarding the cost – £1700 a year is not a huge amount given the audience he is hoping to reach (ie his constituency) If the website is the only way to reach/engage certain of his constituents, then it’s a pretty useful channel. Also, like for like comparisons with other MSPs (or other websites) aren’t that great a measure given that each MSP – and indeed website – will cover and appeal to different demographics.

    However, as others have noted, it’s been done on the back of a fag packet with – I’m guessing – no real thought to what his constituents want or need, or what they can practically access.

    The reason that it’s perceived as such poor value for money could be down to a) people not knowing about it (Google is still a mystery to some) and b) it just not being the right way to engage with his constituents.

    Anyway, I hope he gets someone who knows what they are doing on the case; there are plenty of fantastic people who ‘get it’ who could look at what his constituents *really* want and create a proper, transparent and accessible channel to their MSP.

  3. FWIW, although I wouldn’t allow access to webaliser, I used to keep the stats open when I used statcounter, sitemeter or tracksy, I had no desire to keep it secret and found it useful when others allowed acces to their stats (I didn’t allow full access, IP logging was kept secret, for example).

    Vicky–most Lib Dem MPs would balk at paying £300 per year for a site, even the ones that use them to communicate incredibly well with constituents. That’s because they’ve a sense of proportion and know what they can get and for how much from the approved suppliers the party works with.

    To spend £1700 pa for something that useless is really poor form.

  4. The thing about Charlie Gordon’s website is that the content isn’t that bad, but it really is let down by a poor presentation. It seems as though “GMG Solutions” are listening though — the Flash navigation buttons seem to be gone now.

    Mat, I’m with you on keeping things like Statcounter and Sitemeter public. I just found it surprising that I was just able to accidentally stumble upon someone’s Webalizer stats.

  5. Mat – with respect, I would be very surprised if there are any commercial suppliers out there who would only charge £300 a year for design and hosting. If LibDem M(S)Ps have found them, then they are incredibly fortunate, but personally I would be wary of the limits that would impose on my website should it ever need custom functionality/dedicated hosting.

  6. Vicky – The issue is that the design only has to be done once, so that shouldn’t have to factor into the overall figure, and £1,700 is still pretty steep for other costs unless serious continued maintenance was required or there was some staff involved in continually generating content (doesn’t seem to be the case here). Of course the design was done in this year so hopefully the costs will tail off pretty steeply.

    One wonders what “call handling” means in this context.

  7. What this incident has brought to light is the fact that MSPs are not being offered any guidance by their employer – the Scottish Parliament – on what their web sites must do, achieve, and comply with. Without the need to comply with guidelines or to do an open procurement process, you are going to run into problems like this. I have entered into correspondence with my own MSP about this issue and he is raising it with their Equalities Unit. Hopefully this will not happen again.

    FWIW when I was in the public sector (choke, gasp) the community development agency I worked for spent a five figure sum on a website revamp without ever checking the analytics on the existing site. When I did, and cleaned out all the stat rubbish to reveal a whopping eight external hits per week, the cost per visit on the new site was £1,800. After I left the agency in disgust, they then spent something like £60k rebranding the agency and commissioning a whole new site a year later, knowing full well that they would be merging with another agency a year after that and rebranding/redesigning yet again. Three site revamps which probably totaled over £100k for a site that nobody actually wanted. Welcome to Scotland.

  8. good find! One thing that having his website in the news has done, it gave his stats in late January a big boost!

    I’d also noticed the £11.80 payments to Queen’s Park FC…. what do you suppose that’s for?

  9. Duncan, I have no idea. I’m still scratching my head on that one. I didn’t mention it because I had nothing to say about it, but it certainly is a strange looking one.

  10. Duncan,
    I stumbled across your web site this morning whilst researching a piece I am writing about web site costs. I’m so impressed with your efforts – and your sleuthing ability – that I’m going to put up a link to you from my own site.
    Well done that man!

  11. Vicky, most Lib Dem M(s)Ps use the Praiter Raines partnership, which charges £50 initial setup and just under £300 per year for a fairly flexible template based site.

    I’m taking on the contract for a different MP, wordpress install, and am doing it for the same amount as it’s what I compete with. I personally dislike PRAI sites, but they’re improving constantly and it’s a successful business, my dislike is appearance and design, not functionality, which is effective.

    If you want an all singing and all dancing site, you can pay loads for it, but for most MPs a fairly basic site with static content and news/blogging functionality is fine, you can always pay for extra plugins for WordPress if you feel the need.

    Given the hosting for that sort of traffic is going to be no more than £5 per month, that’s £20 per month for very little real work unless something goes wrong.

  12. I’m still struggling to get my head around the idea that my site, which costs me absolutely nothing, has no staff involved, uses a default template (i.e. no coding from me), requires a few minutes a day to keep running and discussing something which, in the greater scheme of things, is not that important, is out-hitting a site by a Member of Parliament paying a four/five-figure sum per year*.

    I have an average of 26.19 visits per day across the life of my blog despite the first nine months having virtually no hits due to me not linking to my site anywhere outside the forum where it initially lived. If I only included the time when I had links to the outside internet, I’d have at least double the traffic count of Charlie Gordon.

    Granted, I don’t know how big or web-interested Charlie Gordon’s constituency is, but surely he should be able to do a better job than this. He could start by getting a standard free blog platform and template and using half-time in Queens Park matches to update his site. He probably lists his phone costs under “call handling” anyway and it would cost him about £1 a match on pay-as-you-go. That’s £2 a week to sort out his site content and he’ll have a better site than he does now. Plus he’ll never complain about how long the gaps between halves are.

    Also, he could justify having what appears to be a Queens Park FC season ticket in his political expenses, because he’d be doing some proper political work in that time.

    If Charlie thinks this is a good idea, he can contact me and I’ll give him whatever help he requires.

    * – “Call handling” sounds like it might be a telephone service provided by GMG. Hopefully it is better value for money than the website.