Captchas and Conversions

CAPTCHAs are a pain in the butt to figure out sometimes. Everyone has problems with them at one point or another. But, as a business owner, you need to decide if they’re worth the customer frustration. The point of a CAPTCHA is to keep out the spam. It’s a noble idea, but does it come at a loss?


Image via Flickr by afromusing

CAPTCHA is a word, phrase, or string of letters that website users must complete when filling out online forms or creating accounts. They’re meant to ensure that only real people can fill out web forms or create accounts. Websites that offer polling, blogs with comments, and even online stores all receive spam accounts. These accounts are typically owned by robots or bots.

Bot accounts aren’t created by real people, and they’re typically used for a malicious intent. For example, a bot account created to comment on a blog post is likely going to link back to a third-party site owned by the bot creator or a link containing a virus. CAPTCHAs cut down on bot-created accounts.

What CAPTCHA Options Exist?

Image via Flickr by Elizabeth

There are many different types of CAPTCHAs out there. Some of the most common are words, numbers, or varied letters and numbers that a user must type into a field. However, some companies are now using other methods to try to prove the user is an actual person.

Instead of simply putting in some letters and numbers to create an account, users may need to watch a video and answer questions about it. Websites that use this method are also taking advantage of valuable marketing and ad revenue opportunities.


Image via Flickr by JD

CAPTCHA reviews are mixed. One informal study showed that yes, the CAPTCHA meant an 88 percent reduction in spam accounts on the websites monitored. However, it also left those websites with up to 3.2 percent in lost conversions. So, while a CAPTCHA can keep out spam, it can also keep legitimate customers off your site.

Why do CAPTCHAs Decrease Conversions?

Image via Flickr by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Users hate CAPTCHAs. Some users will simply leave if they see that your site has a CAPTCHA requirement, unless they feel your site is worth the hassle. The bigger problem, however, is when customers simply can’t get the CAPTCHA to work. Some of CAPTCHAs are hard to read or frustrating to figure out. When someone has tried multiple times, and can’t get your wbsite to work, they’re going to leave.

If you are using a CAPTCHA, here’s a tip: remove all characters that look alike from the possible letter combination. For example, a lower case L (l) and one (1) can be very hard to tell apart. If you eliminate these letters, confusion will be reduced. Also consider 0 and O, I and l, 8 and B.

Is CAPTCHA Right for Your Website?

Image via Flickr by Marina Noordegraaf

Realistically, the decision comes down to personal preference. If you don’t use CAPTCHA, your spam is likely to spike. However, if you do, you may see a drop in conversions. If you decide to use CAPTCHA, it’s crucial to use something that’s fast and easy for all website users. For example, forcing users to watch a video may create ad revenue and keep out spammers, but it will likely irritate potential customers.

Try and think outside the box. What else could you use? Perhaps just recording the time on site and only considering users that have browsed for more than a minute to be valid? If you come up with a custom solution it will work well, as bots target the masses.

CAPTCHAs have a time and a place. Some feel that their time and place is in the past. However, today, there are many options if you decide to add a CAPTCHA. Make sure to consider your options carefully before adding this feature to your website.

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By Jon Correll

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