Captchas are probably the second most
irritating thing on the Web after popups. However, even if you don't
care if your visitors leave your site mad or not, captchas have one
other side effect that can really hurt you - they kill conversions.
And this is more than you can take because it hits you straight in
Spam Is Bad but Captchas Aren't Better Either
When the Web began to develop at rocket speed at the end of the
last century, so did spam. Spam quickly turned into a nightmare for
many sites and webmasters desperately sought a solution to the spam
problem. Such a solution was offered quickly and it was called
CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers
and Humans Apart). The function of captchas was to stop spambots from
doing their jobs.
As it turned out pretty soon, spambots (and their creators) aren't
that stupid and they quickly figured out ways to outfox captchas.
Nevertheless, captchas still manage to filter at least a portion of
the spam a site is getting and this is why they are still in
However, this comes at a price. Captchas stop not only spambots
but they are an obstacle to legit human visitors as well. What is
worse, captchas stop only humans but search engine bots as well. If
you have content that is accessible only after a captcha is entered
correctly, it's quite obvious this content is out of reach for search
engine spiders who even if they could, wouldn't bother with filling
in captchas â?? they just move to the next site that is more
In the worst case, the most annoying thing about captchas is that
when they are not implemented properly, there is data loss. Consider
the case when your captcha is next to illegible and/or when after the
captchas is filled incorrectly, all the data on the form is wiped out
and the mad user has to start from scratch. What do you think - how
many of the users will bother to refill the form just to buy
something from you, for example?
Captchas Hurt Conversions
Captchas are bad from usability point of view and as already
mentioned, if they stop search engine spiders from indexing pages
behind the captcha, they are bad for SEO as well. However, the real
damage is done when you consider conversions. Captchas simply kill
conversions and probably this is their worst disadvantage in terms of
Lost conversions matter more than spam. Spam might be irritating
but it doesn't kill your business the way lack of conversions does.
While the results vary from site to site, when captchas are on, this
could decrease conversions big time. For instance, if you have a
captcha on a newsletter signup form, this could cut your subscribers
in half because many users won't even bother to try their luck with
the captcha. If you have a captcha on a shopping site, this might
spare you some fake orders but the number of frustrated customers
will be times higher than this.
Basically, the more difficult and illegible the captcha, the
higher the drop in conversions. If you don't believe it, experiment
on your site with captchas with varying difficulty and take notes of
Standard captchas that require the user to fill in letters and
numbers are the most acceptable of all but they still are quite of a
hurdle. Audio and video captchas are a real kill because they might
require up to a minute of your users' time to listen to or watch and
fill in. This is why it's hardly surprising that audio and video
captchas are the ones with the highest give up rates.
Unfortunately, no matter how much technology advances, the real
captcha alternatives are yet to be seen. This doesn't mean you are
completely helpless against spam. Here are 3 captcha alternatives you
might want to try:
Use a less annoying captcha variation. Out of the numerous
captcha variations, there are some that are more acceptable to
users, for instance the variation where a user has to solve a simple
math problem (like 3+4) and enter the result. This captcha variety
eliminates the illegible letters that piss users most and if you use
simple math problems all your users can solve, this might solve the
captcha problem for you.
Get Akismet, or other third-party anti-spam solutions. The
next alternative you have is to use a dedicated anti-spam solution.
The choice here is overwhelming and your options vary depending on
what you need the spam filter for. One of the universal spam filters
that is available for multiple platforms is Akismet, so if you
haven't tried it so far, now is the time to do it.
Apply the honeypot technique. The honeypot technique includes
a field that is to be left empty by the user. This way it is supposed that humans won't fill the field,
only robots who don't understand the instructions will. However, the
honeypot technique is everything but fool-proof. Absent-minded or
visually impaired users could fill the field and smarter robots
could avoid it. These are the reasons why the honeypot technique is
not that popular in practice.
Time to Get Rid of the Captcha?
As you see, captchas are bad but their alternatives aren't much of
a solution either. Therefore, the only option you might have is to
get rid of the captcha. In many cases this could be your best move??
i.e. if you don't get huge volumes of spam but captchas kill your
conversions, then you'd better part with it. On the other hand, if
you do get huge volumes of spam and the captcha isn't that much of a
problem for your users, the answer is obvious -? leave the captcha.
You just need to analyze your situation in particular and decide what
works in your case and what doesn't.