Use CAPTCHA with CAUTION

As a SEO, you may have concentrated on optimizing your website and pleasing major search engine robots that now seem to regularly throw curve balls with each new update. However, you must ensure that you also take care of your website visitors and customers by providing a memorable user experience.

One factor that can ruin a pleasing user experience, but is also considered a necessity in times of increasing spam, is CAPTCHA or Completely Automated Public Turing Test. This small test can confirm if a visitor at your website is human or a robot. The test asks mathematical questions such as an answer for 4 + 2, or just to type what is displayed in a skewed manner on the screen.

However, several websites are so paranoid that they resort to asking tougher CAPTCHA questions or ask visitors to type in complicated words filled with numbers and symbols. An article posted by Casey Henry in 2009 revealed that companies could boost their conversion rates on an average by 3.2 percent if they turned the CAPTCHA option off.

On the other hand, a few innovative companies have tried to offer alternatives to CAPTCHA that they perceive as being more user-friendly or less insulting. For instance, SolveMedia offers an option that presents an image to a site visitor and asks them to type in a phrase that is associated with that particular image. They also offer videos that display a phrase whilst playing, which the visitor needs to copy in a box displayed below the video. Alternatively, visitors will need to view the video for a specific time period before they can proceed, which is similar to watching an ad on YouTube.

There are other companies that are also working towards CAPTCHA alternatives that claim to improve user experience. However, many users are still not happy with CAPTCHA or its alternatives as they feel that it forms a barrier between themselves and the website, and actually prevents them from experiencing a better user experience. CAPTCHA coding is especially tough for visually impaired visitors or those that are color blind and audio CAPTCHAs too seem to mar a good user experience.

In fact, image and video CAPTCHA alternatives such as those offered by Minteye and SolveMedia seem to be perceived as thrusting unwanted ads before visitors that cannot proceed further until they have watched it.

Unfortunately, CAPTCHA shows no sign of being abandoned by website owners and webmasters since they currently do not have a better option to beat spam. In fact, this feature is showing a rise in usage. As of July 2013, platforms such as Drupal have almost 200,000 users that have applied different types of CAPTCHA variants on their sites.

Stanford University undertook a study to see just how challenging CAPTCHA had actually become for genuine visitors. They collected data from eBay for a week and found out that it took users 9.8 seconds on average to complete a visual CAPTCHA.

An audio CAPTCHA took 28.4 seconds for the same and 50 percent users gave up on audio CAPTCHAs. Correct translation of CAPTCHA by at least 3 users was done only 71 percent of the time while an audio CAPTCHA achieved the same only at 31.2 percent of the time. Since audio CAPTCHAs currently have an audience of 1 percent of the total market, the above dismal figures reveal that websites have a lot to lose rather than gain by using CAPTCHAs.

There are a few CAPTCHA alternatives available that do not reduce user experience. If you are facing user comment spam then tools such as those offered by Akismet can be of great help. You can also try the honeypot technique of hiding fields on online forms to find out if the user is human or robot. However, this technique can backfire since a visually impaired user might still be able to see the field and fill it up so asking users to not fill that particular field with a visual notice may be a good idea.

If you are considering using CAPTCHA or even eliminating it from your website then you need to consider a few factors. You need to analyze the amount of spam received by your site and whether you can afford to lose potential conversions. You also need to make sure that your CAPTCHA code option is user-friendly, especially to those that are visually impaired. On the other hand, you should consider stopping spam on your site by techniques other than using CAPTCHA on hapless visitors.

CAPTCHA is seen as an irritating deterrent by visitors, reduces conversions, and also seem as if websites are taking the easiest way out to prevent spam on their sites. Hence, if you are a website owner or webmaster then you must understand that CAPTCHA frustrates users and visitors. You must consider it as a last option since quizzing visitors with the answer for “2 + 2” or asking “What is Suzie’s name?” in a twisted manner only causes them to squint with frustration.

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