How much does a government website cost?

12 July 2010

Responding to questions in the House of Commons, the government has just revealed that its ‘Your Freedom’ website will cost approximately £20,000 to run over the coming year. The cost of www.hmg.gov.uk/yourfreedom has been criticised as excessive – but is such criticism fair?

The recent release of official data on government websites allows us to make some comparisons. In a straight comparison of costs, the ‘Your Freedom’ site nearly makes it into the cheapest 20% of government websites.

But costs are only part of the story, of course: websites are also judged on how many visitors they attract. Higher costs may be justified on the basis that the site attracts more visitors.

On this basis, the costs of ‘Your Freedom’ appear to be justified: the site has met with “overwhelming demand” (FT, free registration required). In fact, it could be argued that more should have been spent on the site, since it crashed under the number of visits it attracted.

Factoring in usage give us a better idea of which government websites are good value for money. We can get a crude ‘cost per visit’ measure by dividing total costs by total visits.

Initial headlines focused on the fact that www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk appears to cost £11.78 per visit, but these figures have been questioned, so we’ve excluded them from the graph below:

But a simple cost per visit measure conceals massive variation. To understand this, see the second graph, below.

This plots total costs against total visits. For maximum value for money, a website should be in the bottom right corner – low costs and high visits. The top left hand corner (high costs and low visits) is the one to avoid.

Here are two points to take away from this graph:

  • most government websites attract under 20,000 visitors each year, but also cost under £3 million to run
  • there are half a dozen websites that ‘spend big’, but usually this is offset by big numbers of visits as well.

When put into context, £20,000 for ‘Your Freedom’ seems to be a pretty good deal after all.

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One Response

  1. Rich B on 28 May 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I would agree. £20,000 is actually a VERY good deal. Especially when you consider how much it costs to administer such a website along with the number of visits, the domain/hosting costs, the actual content creation (probably was on a daily basis, although the site has been archived now) and all the web development work that went into it originally as well as adding extra features etc…

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