Is Your CAPTCHA Killing Your Business?

Dec 27, 2008   //   by Gerald Weber   //   SEO Blog  //  73 Comments


As business owners, bloggers and/or search marketers, we all go through pain staking efforts to get qualified traffic to our websites from the SERPS, Paid search and our various social media outlets. However all this effort and hard work may be in vain if our users are not able to easily fill out our contact form(s). Sure the CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) or as I like to call it CPA (Complete Pain in the A**) is intended to solve a valid business problem, but at what cost? Should we really make customers/prospects work this hard to contact us? Not to mention by using a CAPTCHA you will be alienating multiple groups with disabilities i.e. blind people and people with dyslexia.

I have asked five of my friends who I consider to be authority figures in the area of search marketing, SEO, design and usability the following question:

What is your opinion regarding CAPTCHAs on contact forms as they relate to web conversions and accessibility/usability?


Ann Smarty owner of SEOSmarty.com in FL. says:

As a user, I don’t like CAPTCHAs of course as they take time and sometimes make me complete the form several times.
As a webmaster, I realize I can’t do without them.
Is the compromise possible?
I say, make them entertaining and people will enjoy them.
I’ve enclosed the example of a good captcha that I myself was very much pleased with
(from care2.com).”

Captcha Example

Jon Roland President of AudibleThinking.com in Houston says:

It is a challenge getting a good looking CAPTCHA setup properly to work in all popular browsers. I prefer a small easy to use math CAPTCHA. This version is less intrusive than a big image of a obscured word. With the math CAPTCHA it will ask a simple math question and give you a drop down with the answers to choose from. This is small, clean and easy to use.

Brian Horn owner of Horndog Search Marketing in Houston, TX. says:

I think they have become so common that they don’t deter someone from leaving a relevant comment, or filling out a contact form. It’s a good tool for weeding out people who aren’t serious about participating in the conversion.”

Yan Susanto of WordPress Blog for Beginners says:

I’m never against the use of CAPTCHAs but most CAPTCHAs are not designed to be user-friendly. In the context of using a CAPTCHA on comment form, from a user’s perspective, it can be quite an annoying experience.

Unless it’s used in large websites where user registration is required to prevent spambot registration, it’s advisable to do away with it and adopt other prevention mechanisms to prevent spam. With Akismet in the background, do we still need CAPTCHAs on comment forms? Personally, it’s deemed to be a luxury we can all live without.”

Jordan Pearce of Blogs That Make Money in Seattle says:

Blog SPAM happens but I think the Web can be overly paranoid by it. A CAPTCHA image is wonderful for filtering ‘humanness’ especially if you have tons of traffic. If a human can’t read the damn thing they may give up on it and that is – a no sale for you!

People in online industries usually know what the CAPTCHA image is all about. Do your customers know what they are, or is your CAPTCHA going to chase them away? You have to make it easy for people to convert, otherwise they simply wont.

Dennis Edell of DirectSalesWebMarketing.com and also a frequent commentator on this blog wrote a great article titled Captcha Issue: Why You WILL Lose My Comment – Possibly My Subscription

Thanks for sharing your opinions and insights guys (and gals).

My personal (Gerald Weber) opinion, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put security in the hands of the users and make them pay the price for the actions of spammers. My argument here is in favor of usability. Let me suggest that there are other ways to deal with spam, Akismet for comment spam, Boxtrapper and Spam Assassin for email, just to name a few.

Also if a user fails when attempting to fill out your form and they are unable to read the difficult CAPTCHA text, how many times do you think they will keep trying? (2 times? 3 times?) Or the first time may be when you lose them forever.
image of CAPTCHAs
Personally as a user if I fail a CAPTCHA I tend to get irritated. If I have to try a second time I may not attempt it again (this may be the deal breaker for me). I’ll get frustrated, hit the back arrow and find another site, that does not have such a difficult CAPTCHA. Please don’t make me work as if I am trying to crack a security code for the computer banks at NASA!

Please let us know your opinions regarding the use of CAPTCHAS in the comments below
.

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Gerald Weber

I founded Search Engine Marketing Group in December 2005. More recently I co-founded viralcontentbuzz.com. which is the free platform that helps bloggers generate REAL "social buzz" on their best content. Feel free to follow me on Google+

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Comment Policy

  • Salwa says:

    As a user, I find using CAPTCHA quite an annoying experience. You sometime’s have to refresh it a number of times to read it. Like Yan said unless it’s used in large websites where user registration is required to prevent spam registration, it is better to avoid it and find other mean’s of preventing spams like Akismet and such.

    Salwa’s last blog post..Sunday Link Love – December 28th 2008

  • Ahmed says:

    I'm all for a cat Captcha plugin for WordPress :)

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Ahmed,

      The cat CAPTCHA is definately creative for someone that doesn't mind having images of cats on their site. I was not aware of that plugin. Do you possibly have a link for readers that might want to check it out? Thanks.

  • Dennis Edell says:

    I’ve never needed, nor do I think I will ever need more then Akismet.

    Ironically I wrote a very popular “captcha killing” type article aimed directly at the really annoying math ones that you can barely see. ;)

    It’s in my most popular articles if you care to see. :)

  • Gerald Weber
    Twitter:
    says:

    Dennis,

    I took a minute to read your article, Captcha Issue: Why You WILL Lose My Comment – Possibly My Subscription. Good job! You'll notice a link now in the body of this article. ;-)

  • Daiv Russell says:

    I use the 2 + 2 test that Ikki recommends. This seems like the kind of things that a simple A/B split test could determine.

    Why theorize on whether or not CAPTCHA's are killing your business? Figure it out. Maybe your clients don't care.

    However, spending hundreds of hours a year filtering out spam takes your web form that's supposed to SAVE you money or MAKE you money and makes it end up COSTing you money.

    Do what's right for you and your business.

    - Daiv http://Twitter.com/DaivRawks

    <abbr>Daiv Russell’s last blog post..Message to Market Match – Targeting your Target Demographic</abbr>

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Daiv Russell,

      The question about whether or not CAPTCHAs are killing your business is intended to be rhetorical in nature. I know they aren't killing my business because I don't use them. However, I do realize that there are different strokes for different folks, which is why I asked others to contribute to this article. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. ;-)

  • derek says:

    though Captcha is annoying, it is essential as it provides the first protection layer against spams. Yes, it may be troublesome, but you can’t do without it.

  • SBA says:

    These examples are funny as I read them, not so when I have to past those stupid tests! The worst is when they wipe out your message if you get it wrong. There is one where I literally turn my head at an angle to try and read the swirly letters that form some sort of abstract art! It is so annoying but at that point I’ve written the comment (and saved it on the clipboard. lol).

    SBA’s last blog post..‘Tis The Season For Bloggers Too

  • Gerald Weber
    Twitter:
    says:

    SBA,

    Regarding the blog comment CAPTCHA. LOL, that really irks me when I leave a long well thought out comment and click enter without seeing the CAPTCHA BAM! 5 minutes worth of commenting gone! Ha ha. That's the worst!

    • Wei Liang says:

      I agree with you Gerald. Or sometimes I just key in the wrong CAPTCHA and there goes my comment. Of course I will rewrite the comment but the quality of it wouldn't be as constructive as the first one.

      I believe Askimet is able to do the job instead of using CAPTCHA.

      Wei Liang

      <abbr>Wei Liang | Earn Money Online’s last blog post..Lesson 21: Blog Carnival</abbr>

      • Gerald Weber
        Twitter:
        says:

        Wei Liang,

        I can't tell you how many times I have done this as a user. I'll also take the time to rewrite the comment but if it just spent several minutes writing it the first time I may not spend as much time the second time for lack of patience.

  • Daiv Russell says:

    I think it’s how people write the software that impacts the usability. As a software developer, I know that you don’t HAVE to write the page in such a way that it deletes your comments when you get the CAPTCHA wrong.

    When someone has a difficult (or flawed) CAPTCHA AND it wipes out your stuff, I go completely mental. It usually prevents my feedback.

    On longer posts/comments, etc. I usually type into Word first, to catch typos and things (sometimes the online boxes are sooooo tiny), so I have the original work available to paste again. But, as usual, I’m probably an exception rather than the rule.

    Daiv Russell’s last blog post..Message to Market Match – Targeting your Target Demographic

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Regarding comment spam. I have gotten to the point that I copy and paste to the clipboard before I hit enter to submit my comment as well. However, you and I are most likely a bit more knowledgeable than the average user.

  • Shirley says:

    Very good. Yeh, some captchas are so frustrating. Like Wei Liang, it often happens that I 'mess up' with the captcha and lose my comment. I try to reconstruct it but its never as good.

    The most annoying for me is when I am almost positive that I have properly answered a captcha. I click enter and get an error message…. I like to think that I am intelligent, but some of these catchas make me feel like I need to return to grade school. :-)

    Note: It is equally annoying if registration is required prior to commenting.

    <abbr>Shirley’s last blog post..Why The Alexa Widget Is BAD For Your Website</abbr>

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Shirley,

      Yes if registration is required 99% of the time I won't even bother unless it is a site like sphinn or Digg or something. Yes it can be especially frustrating when you are certain you have the CAPTCHA correct but it still doesn't work. I'll tell you another one that is bad. When the CAPTCHA letter looks like it could be upper or lower case. You know the darned thing is case sensitive but they sometimes discombobulate the letters so much on the letter CAPTCHAs that you just can't tell. I find when you guess if it's upper or lower case, as luck would have it, you almost always guest wrong.

  • Andrew says:

    Lol, I hate that captcha crap – half the time I can't even read them at all. I do prefer the simple math problems, personally.

  • Andrew says:

    Lol, I hate that captcha crap – half the time I can’t even read them at all. I do prefer the simple math problems, personally.

    Andrew’s last blog post..The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

  • Tumblemoose says:

    You know, I don't mind them too much as long as they meet two simple requirements:

    1. They're at least legible

    2. They are NOT case sensitive. The biggest offender of this is Digg. How do you tell if letters like "x" and "K" are capitals or not? Very frustrating. I've emailed tech support voicing my opinion and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out their response… Shhh. It's awful quiet in here…

    Cheers,

    George

    <abbr>Tumblemoose’s last blog post..Powerful tools to help your writing</abbr>

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Tumblemoose,

      The case sensitive issue is enough to make the most sane person hurl themselves off of a tall building. This is actually one of my pet peeves and guaranteed to drive anyone nuts.

  • Abdulrehman says:

    Haha, that picture gave me a good laugh. As for blogs: We don't really need CAPTCHA verification, just adding a simple math question would keep it simple and tolerable for the commentator. Keep up the good work!

  • Gerald Weber
    Twitter:
    says:

    Abdulrehman,

    I agree that the math CAPTCHA is the lesser of the CAPTCHA evils. However as Jessie Ventura once said "if you pick the lesser of two evils, you are still picking evil." ;-)

  • Matt says:

    CAPTCHA can be so frustrating, there are times I just can't make the words out. A better solution is the simple math test I've seen on some comments/submit forms. 2+2 = I can do…word scrambles give me a headache.

  • Hi Gerald, thanks for a great article and I love the cartoon! I've always felt the CAPTCHA approach is akin to saying your customers are guilty until proven innocent, and it stinks. If a brick and mortar store asked everyone who walked through the door to "prove" they weren't a shoplifter, there would be a revolt! Yet millions of Web sites do the equivalent every day.

    My firm launched Form Armor as an anti-spam alternative for Web forms (all kinds of forms, not just blog comments) with no CAPTCHA or other user tests required. We just finished a study on CAPTCHA and issues related to Web form abuse, and will be releasing that data later this month. (I'll send you a copy.)

    Researchers at the University of Washington also just finished a study about CAPTCHA with blind and sighted users. Included in that data was the tidbit that 11% of sighted users never managed to solve the visual CAPTCHAs that were presented. That correlates pretty well with Sampa.com, who saw an immediate 9.2% improvement in the conversion rate on their sign up form, just by removing CAPTCHA. (So if you want to make the business case to anyone about avoiding CAPTCHA, dangle a 10% lift in conversions and see how that flies.)

    Here's a link to the University of Washington study (PDF file) and to the post about Sampa.com's conversion rate improvements.

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Larissa,

      A 10% increase in conversion is definitely a strong incentive, not that I needed convincing ;-). We are completely on the same page. I'd like a copy that study. Sounds great! I'll send you an email.

      Thank you for your insight and comment.

  • Hi, Gerald:

    I have to agree with you on this one. I've been to several blogs (wont mention names) and some non blog sites, that literally asked me to become superwoman by being able to read what appeared like 3 point sized font and or such obscure images, that i have simply closed out of the page and vowed to not return.

    There is no need for such measures IMO. And you know what is worse than an over the top captcha?

    SNAP. You know the preview image thing on some WordPress blogs. Another supremely annoying thing that needs to be done away with asap.

    <abbr>Missy (from G34 Media)’s last blog post..I Won An iPod Nano!!!</abbr>

  • Jon says:

    Dont use a Captcha! Try CoffeeCup Web Form Builder. This software is cheap and it uses Flash to create the form. This way the spambots cant see the form and the user doesnt need to enter a Captcha image.

    You can add a background image to the form so that it fits into your design or just leave it white.

    Get the software here. http://www.coffeecup.com/form-builder/

  • Mitch says:

    Man, Dennis is everywhere! I don't mind some of the captchas, though I don't use one myself, but the ones that are hard to discern, where you're just not sure what those stupid letters are, is annoying. And the voice thing; I have never been able to hear what's being said at all, so that's useless also.

    Don't make it too hard on commenters; we won't stick around for long if you do.

    <abbr>Mitch’s last blog post..My Big RSS Subscriber Contest!</abbr>

  • harleyblues says:

    JPearse

    is this your new blog look? anyhow oh so this is what those annoying things are called Captchas thingies. I find them most annoying!!

    hb

    <abbr>harleyblues’s last blog post..Wow! is it the Beatles or Julian Lennon? Hot New music</abbr>

  • Joe Hage says:

    I'm with you. When I get a CAPTCHA I hope I get it right the first time, expecting to be challenged with a second or third one.

    I really like Ann Smarty's "Which one is a cat"?

    Ann, is that available for use?

    joe@joehageonline.com

    <abbr>Joe Hage’s last blog post..What is TweetDeck? TweetDeck explained.</abbr>

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      I think the one Ann suggested is creative but I'm still in favor of no CAPTCHA. There are other better way to deal with spam in my opinion.

  • WebGeek says:

    Bravo. SPOT ON.

    Not to mention, that CAPTCHA’s can be beaten by bots these days.

    There are other methods to fight spam invisibly that don’t require harassing our site visitors.

    WebGeek’s last blog post..WP-SpamFree Update – Landmarks and What’s on the Horizon

  • nathan davies says:

    I dislike CAPTCHAS from a ux point of view and Google account sign up uses a particularly difficult to read one.

    As a developer I also dislike them, they put users off and that’s bad thing.

    I had one on a site once and I still got spam so I removed it and took the form off the page making it accessible via and AJAX call. The result was zero spam. SO my approach now is have a link on the page that brings up the form in-situ via an AJAX call.

    With this method the UX is fine, the spam is gone and everyone is happy.

    Cheers

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      “As a developer I also dislike them, they put users off and that’s bad thing.”

      Yes I agree with your statement 100%. Thanks for your input.

  • Troy says:

    You make a great point. So many businesses out there have no idea how many potential customers or users they're missing out on by having a CAPTCHA on their site that customers fail too often (1 failure per 5 attempts for the leading ones out there!) or get easily frustrated by even if they can solve the squiggly word test. Unfortunately, the businesses that do know think they have no alternatives.

    Not all CAPTCHAs have to be frustrating or confusing in order to be secure. It just so happens that the ones most in use out there right now happen to be that way. We at Vidoop recently created an image-based CAPTCHA that is getting a positive response for being more usable while still being secure. It's called VidoopCAPTCHA. Your site administrators can get it up and running easily. Please see the demo here to check it out. With it being relatively new, with new features being added all the time, we'd love to hear your feedback too.

  • AustinPrime says:

    I can not stand CAPTCHA. It drove me crazy on MySpace, that’s why you’ll never see me there again. On many sites if I can’t read it, I’m done!

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Agreed. I’m the same way. I’ll leave or give up if I fail it a couple of times unless it’s a very very important email and I have no other means to contact.

  • John McTigue says:

    I don't mind captcha is it's somewhat readable and somewhat like a real word, but then that makes it a weaker deterrent to spam. We'll probably never defeat spam bots, like we'll never totally defeat e-mail spam, but I don't mind taking a little more time to add a comment if it helps…

    <abbr>John McTigue’s last blog post..Inbound Marketing Journal – Adding Value Is Everything</abbr>

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      For comment spam I use Akismet and I have my comments set to auto post. In other words they don't need to be moderated unless they have links in them. Akismet has done a fantastic job for me. I can't remember ever seeing visible spam on my blog.

  • Chris says:

    I happened upon your blog while searching about Twitter. You have quite a large array of useful info.

    When I saw the link to this particular post, I just had to read it. Mainly because I just implemented CAPTCHA on my blog today & published a post about the change.

    It starts out by saying “I hate CAPTCHA as much as the next person. Mainly because I hate trying to decipher what the heck I’m looking at. Sometimes you really have to have a good imagination to figure out that the squiggly lines you’re looking at are actually letters.”

    TPA is definitely right!!! That’s why I went with the math questions. I don’t get a ton of traffic but the spambots seem to love me. Since my blog is set to send me a notice each time I receive a comment, I was getting upwards of 50 emails a day and it really started to irritate me.

    Thanks for this post. I’m off to look around your site a little more.

    • Chris says:

      I forgot to say (in that long rambling comment LOL) that I loved that cartoon. That's absolutely hilarious & so right on.

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Chris,

      I’m glad you happened upon my blog and hopefully you will find some of the information here useful.

      I know firsthand how frustrating comment spam can be. Have you tried using Akismet? It’s already included in WordPress you simply need to register for an API. I think the math CAPTCHA is one of the better CAPTCHAs but I try to always put myself in the place of the user. It really is one extra step for the user and sometimes they can be annoying. That’s just my 2 cent.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and hope to see you around here in the future.

  • PEZ says:

    I absolutely hate captchas. At some sites failing a captcha means I have to reenter the new password (twice of course). How can anyone allow their web site to be that difficult to use. I have to be really and truly ramped up to even care submitting anything to a page that uses a captcha. The web is huge. Full of other offers.

    <abbr>PEZ’s last blog post..MouseWheel Event on Mac</abbr>

  • Robert says:

    Personally I loath the CAPTCHA. Half the time I can't make out what it is and at other times it may be something as small as the casing involved!

    As for conversions, if I have to re-enter information because of a failed CAPTCHA, you've lost me. Can't say that I'm against the 2+2 option however.

  • Tom Duong says:

    As a user, I usually don't mind entering the CAPTCHA, but I particularly hate the ones where you can barely read the text and you have to refresh it multiple times to get it right. It drives me nuts!

    As a webmaster/blog owner, I prefer not to have the visitor enter in the CAPTCHA. It's one more step for the visitor to get across. Instead, I use a combination of Akismet and WP Ban (ban per IP address – highly recommended) to control the spam.

    Tom

    <abbr>Tom Duong’s last blog post..Facebook Tips: How to Increase Traffic to Your Site in 10 Easy Steps</abbr>

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      I'm with your about not wanting my site visitors to have to work that hard to contact me. How does WP ban work? That sounds interesting.

      • Tom Duong says:

        WP Ban works by banning the offender's IP addresss. This plugin is particularly useful if you get a lot of repeat spammers that end up in your SPAM section. Just copy their IP and paste it into the WP Ban plugin and everytime they visit your site, they will see a custom banned message. I have a total of over 16 thousand banned attempts thus far.

        If you're using WP Super Cache, this plugin may not be for you as they are known to conflict with each other.

        -Tom

        <abbr>Tom Duong’s last blog post..Facebook Tips: How to Increase Traffic to Your Site in 10 Easy Steps</abbr>

  • Bonnie Gibbons says:

    I frequently fail CAPTCHA and greatly prefer Akismet (which asks you a question such as the match question).

    But one of my sites is a classical music blog and I found that with this demographic, even Akismet was too much. In fact, two users emailed in that “comments were broken” because they refused to answer the question. Take note: these users correctly deduced that their refusal to answer the question was holding them back but still wouldn’t answer the darn question! “I thought you were trying to trick me,” one user explained. And that user knows us personally! When I explained what comment spam was, it made perfect sense.

    About all I could do was rewrite the instructions, but people basically quit commenting as long as I had Akismet turned on.

    • Geradl Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Actually Akismet runs in the background and does not ask a captcha like questions. It’s basically a spam filter. If a domain has been reported as a spammer it will simply hold their comment in moderation until you have had time to look over and determine if it’s actually spam or not

      What you are describing sounds like a captcha and definitely they can be annoying, which is the point of the article ;-)

  • Tom Duong says:

    WP Ban works by banning the offender's IP addresss. This plugin is particularly useful if you get a lot of repeat spammers that end up in your SPAM section. Just copy their IP and paste it into the WP Ban plugin and everytime they visit your site, they will see a custom banned message. I have a total of over 16 thousand banned attempts thus far.

    If you're using WP Super Cache, this plugin may not be for you as they are known to conflict with each other.

    -Tom

    <abbr>Tom Duong’s last blog post..Facebook Tips: How to Increase Traffic to Your Site in 10 Easy Steps</abbr>

  • Marcel Cary says:

    I’ve found that alternative puzzles that offer a multiple choice answer can be defeated by spammers. You might think you’ve made it hard enough, but we actually had someone write a spam bot that defeated our multiple-choice puzzle system. If your puzzle system is widely enough deployed, it’s not that costly to hack a little harder, and let the bot fail one in ten times.

    • Gerald Weber
      Twitter:
      says:

      Marcel,

      In addition to a bot being able to beat it.The puzzle question is almost always going to be an annoyance to your users. Unless they just happen to like puzzles :-P

  • Scott Moniz says:

    In terms of blogging, I use WP-Spam free. I dont even have Akismet enabled. WP-Spam free seems to be doing a pretty good job, and I’m never bothered with filtering through the caught comments (they’re not even logged or put into the db, which is nice). Out of site is out of mind.

  • Mathdelane says:

    Captchas are only good for highly secured online registrations and not for comment forms. I'm also against some blogs and sites requiring registration just to leave a comment, there's nothing more annoying than that.

  • David Leonhardt
    Twitter:
    says:

    I hate capchas. Yuck! I don't think I have captchas on any of my websites.

  • Mz5723 says:

    I left this comment because there was no captcha

  • Alex says:

    I use a plugin for my blog that uses both a spam honeypot and captcha. Having read this article, i think I might get rid of the captcha for a little while and see how the site reacts. Good stuff, mang. =)

  • Fredashay Klavierstein says:

    I’m building a website in PHP (it’s not available yet). As a wembaster, I need something to keep bots from posting spam comments in my site. But as a user, I hate CAPTCHAs. They’re hard even for humans to read. I’ll try once, or if the content is something I really want badly enough, I’ll try twice. I like the idea of solving simple math problems, or clicking on all the cats, but the odds of a bot guessing correctly are greater than for a traditional CAPTCHA.