Hallam Internet - Digital Marketing Consultants

CAPTCHA Forms – Good or Evil?

Posted 13/03/2012

“He who would cross the bridge of death
Must answer me these questions three
Ere the other side he see”

What am I talking about?

The above example is taken from the British cult comedy classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail or you might know it as “that film where the old guy on the bridge asks the three questions”.

King Arthur’s knights seek to cross the Bridge of Death on their quest, however the old sinister bridge keeper prevents just anybody from passing by ensuring everybody correctly answers three questions in order to be allowed to continue their journey. The ones who do not answer correctly do not get to continue.

I’m using this to illustrate the barrier that websites big and small all across the world are actively but unknowingly using to deter their potential customers from converting to paying customers. This is of course web form CAPTCHA testing.

‘CAPTCHA’ stands for “completely automated public test to tell computers and humans apart”. You know you’ve been CAPTCHA’d when you attempt to use a web form that prompts you to correctly enter an obscured set of words or randomly generated characters into a box before you can proceed further.

Here’s what a CAPTCHA might look like:

CAPTCHA Forms —Good or Evil

CAPTCHAs are used in order to separate the wolves from the sheep—robots that would love nothing more than to create accounts in order to generate and send SPAM, as opposed to genuine potential customers who would really just like to use your product or service, send a message or buy an item.

Whilst there is argument both for and against the use of website form CAPTCHA tests, pay attention to best practise or risk losing customers and new potential business.

Why are CAPTCHAs unpopular?

  • They are purposefully hard to read and thus hard to correctly enter, which often leads to great frustration
  • They impose a barrier between your user and what they want to achieve
  • If a user cannot correctly guess or enter your CAPTCHA test they will leave
  • They will reduce your number of goals and customer conversions (Contact enquiries, new sign ups and even online purchases)
  • Even intelligent, competent and well sighted people are thwarted and deterred by CAPTCHA tests

Why are CAPTCHAs used by so many people (including Google, Facebook and Amazon etc.)?

  • They prevent their respected website systems being over-run with duplicate profiles and accounts
  • They prevent robots from being able to send you SPAM and other unsolicited e-mail when used on a contact form
  • They are incredibly difficult for non-humans to pass

Ask yourself do you really need to use a CAPTCHA?

A steady stream of customer enquiries is the lifeline of many businesses. If it came to choosing between having to delete the ‘spammy’ e-mails and still receiving more enquiries than having no spam and very few enquiries, I would still choose the former option.

Do you use CAPTCHA on your website, or have you been the victim of a frustrating CAPTCHA form experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Further Reading

Google vs the Film Geeks
How Accessible is your Website?
Why 301 Redirects are Essential for your Websites Success in Google

Comments
  1. I like The Honeypot Trap http://www.getelastic.com/6-captcha-alternatives-to-improve-conversion/

    JEREMY

  2. Having just read your item on bad spelling, I suggest you practise what you preach and follow your own ‘best practice’.

    David

  3. CAPTCHA are a potential barrier to form submissions but nobody wants spam.

    Would have liked to have seen a reference to the ‘hidden social benefits’ of CAPTCHA submissions as seen via this TED talk: http://blog.ted.com/2011/12/06/massive-scale-online-collaboration-luis-von-ahn-on-ted-com/

    Justin Rickwood

    • Susan Hallam

      What a fantastic idea – using the text people type into captchas to digitise books!

      Susan Hallam

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