Are CAPTCHAS Creating Chaos For Your Users?

under Conversion Optimization, Tactic Tuesday.

CAPTCHA-NorthcuttWe've all experienced them at one stage or another during our web experiences. We turn our heads sideways to better interpret the mangled mess of letters and numbers, only to find we've punched them in incorrectly. They come in a variety of colors, in an assortment of waves and shapes and they are the bane of many people's existences; mine, for one, as well as Tim Allen, SEO Analyst at Distilled.

Tim highlighted the annoyance that a number of us face in a recent post he wrote for It just reiterated to me how, even at this advanced stage of understanding search, conversion and user experience, we can still go so far off track.


For those who don't know, it's a test that is generated for humans to complete when initializing certain actions on the web. It's created in such a way that humans can solve it, but machines can't, so you can avoid machines and bots accessing certain areas of your site - such as the comments section, where full-scale abuse would ensue if a bot was let loose to publish comments or links.

They have a purpose, they have a place, but they're not entirely welcome, and some would argue that the benefits of having them are not out-weighing the downsides.

This is especially true when you look at how we've simplified the web, made websites clean and smooth, created easy to navigate interfaces and content that directs and informs. We've minimized all the junk and maximized on intelligent experiences for humans who are adept at surfing the web and finding what they need, and even for those who aren't. We've made everything easier to manage... and yet, there's still that clunky box, whether it be asking you to add 1 + 2 or determine the hidden phrase, or even add the missing piece to a picture; it stands between you and your goal and it pretty much sucks when you can't get it right.

The Research

Tim posted some really interesting statistics that I want to share with you. They were picked up from research done at Stanford University into how well humans fare when it comes to solving CAPTCHAS - given that they are supposedly easy for humans to solve. These are the figures:

  • It takes 9.8 seconds to complete a visual CAPTCHA
  • It takes 28.4 seconds to listen to and solve an audio CAPTCHA
  • 50% of people give up on the audio CAPTCHAs
  • When three people were asked to translate a CAPTCHA, they agree only 71% of the time
  • When three people were asked to translate an audio CAPTCHA, they agree only 31.2% of the time

You'd think that with the effort involved in trying to solve these things and the frustration it causes for the user, that sites would do away with them. Alas, they don't.

The Solutions

There are a few more enticing varieties of CAPTCHA available for webmasters to make use of such as gamified versions of the same concept, but there are also these little nuggets for you to try:

It comes as a recommended plugin for WordPress, but is also available for any website to implement.

Honeypot Technique
It's the sweet, sticky attraction for your silly, little spambots and is invisible to the user. It makes use of an intentional form that a spambot would naturally fill out, except it's hidden using CSS, which spambots tend to ignore. Enter form field heaven for spambot and one very easy way to tell your humans from otherwise.

I'm not 100% sure about the efficacy of this one, but it's also hidden from spambots. It's a simple "I am not a spambot" checkbox that needs to be ticked before you can continue on your web adventures. Sounds simple enough and worth a try.

How do you feel about CAPTCHAs? Do you think they serve a decent purpose and should stay, or are there other ways that this problem could be tackled?