Should You Use CAPTCHA?

As more and more businesses enter the digital era, it has become increasingly important to find a way to keep spam traffic and bots out! For this reason, in the early 2000s, engineers at Carnegie Mellon came up with a clever way to get rid of bots:


Recognize this?


*Bonus points if you could guess the second word

What is a CAPTCHA?

CAPTCHA is an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. It is a series of scrambled letters and/or numbers that is assumed to be easy to decipher by a human, but hard to understand by a computer. This helps tell humans and computers apart.

Fun Fact: CAPTCHAs were used to digitize unreadable text in old versions of New York Times and several old books. In the first year, they were able to identify 440 million words, which is an equivalent of 17,600 books. In 2009, Google took over this technology and used it for their ambitious Google Books project. Every time you solve a CAPTCHA, you are helping Google identify an unreadable word in an old publication or unreadable street numbers from Google maps. Cool, right? Turns out we were all working towards a greater good!

Unfortunately, however, CAPTCHAs started failing at the one thing they were meant to do: stop bot traffic.

With technological advances in AI, it is now possible to crack even the most complex CAPTCHA codes with 99.8% accuracy, rendering them ineffective. Worse – an average human is not very good at solving CAPTCHAS. In fact, a study by Stanford University showed that, on average:

– Image CAPTCHAS take 9.8 seconds to view and solve, while audio CAPTCHAS take 28.4 seconds to hear and solve

– If three subjects were given the same CAPTCHAs, all three subjects would agree on a single answer for around 70% of all CAPTCHAs

– For Audio CAPTCHAs, all subjects would agree on a single answer for only 31.2% of all CAPTCHAs

– Audio CAPTCHA also has a 50% give up rate with only a 52% success rate for those who attempt it

PhD’s solve CAPTCHAs the quickest out of all the subjects

So, unless they have a PhD, your customers are pretty frustrated with not being able to do what they want to do, and instead being stuck solving CAPTCHAs.

3 alternatives to CAPTCHAs that are more user-friendly

Truth be told, even though CAPTCHAs are frustrating and have a significantly negative effect on conversion rates, there hasn’t been a drop in how many businesses are still using it.

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 9.16.36 PM.png

Weekly CAPTCHA usage between January 2013 and January 2018

This is mostly because CAPTCHA, for the longest time, was the most efficient and popular way to block out spam traffic and a lot of businesses are not aware of the new and better ways that have replaced CAPTCHA.

Top three alternatives to CAPTCHA that are more efficient:

1) Solve a math problem

Through the Stanford study, researchers found that the CAPTCHAs that used real English words were solved far faster (up to 30%) by native English speakers. So if you weren’t a native English speaker, you were at a considerable disadvantage.

However, there is one language in this world that is the same in every country (more or less) – Mathematics!

So if your goal is improving user experience for your customers, replacing scrambled, unreadable text with math problems can be a good alternative.

math captcha.png

*Bonus points if you solved that equation

Cons of Math Problems:

Math problems don’t really eradicate the frustrating problem of having obstacles before conversions or blocking spam traffic. Although more efficient for users than scrambled words, math problems can be easily solved by computers and there still remains an extra step that your customers have to perform before they can finish their purchase or finish filling out a form.

Score: 5/10

2) The Honeypot Method

The Honeypot method is probably one of our favourites because it is super simple and does not interrupt the user flow at all.

The honey pot method involves using hidden form fields and fooling bots into filling them out (take that bots!). These fields are invisible to human users, so not much room for confusion.

Hide a field from your contact form.jpg

PS: If you would like to implement this method, here is a great blog post on how to do it.

Cons: If your customers are using browsers that auto-fill without prompting the user, there might be problems that arise with this method. Also, the honeypot method might not work very well for users that are visually impaired.

Score: 8/10


noCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA is a much more sophisticated version of the CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA (the second version of CAPTCHA that was developed by Google) that works on the basis of hidden algorithms.

You have probably seen this before:

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 8.56.49 PM.png

Although it seems simple, there is a high level of sophistication behind that tick box. Google developed an Advanced Risk Analysis backend for reCAPTCHA that considers the user’s entire engagement with CAPTCHA to determine whether they are a bot or a human. Now, your customers can just check the box and, in most cases, they are through to the next page!

Cons: If the Google algorithm suspects that you might be a bot, it might still take you through another step and ask you to solve another CAPTCHA.

Score: 9.5/10

What do we recommend?

CAPTCHAs (and versions of CAPTCHA) are here to stay. They are one of the safest, quickest and (currently) most efficient and cost-friendly way to solve the problem of spam and bot traffic. However, CAPTCHAs are evolving and our recommendation is to make sure that your eCommerce platform is up to date with the newest versions of CAPTCHA.

We would also recommend to choose the method that improves your on-site user experience the most:

1) If you have to use CAPTCHA, try to make sure that you are improving user experience in other ways. For example, if a user gets the CAPTCHA wrong, try not to erase all the information they had previously entered and only refresh the CAPTCHA.

2) If the personality of your brand is fun and playful, we would also recommend checking out Game CAPTCHAs (play tic tac toe or drag all the items into the cart). They are a much more fun way of screening the bots out and improve your user experience.

3) Test! We always say this but testing is crucial. Try different methods for 2-3 weeks each and keep a close eye on the conversion rates. Are they increasing/decreasing? Make a decision based on data and you will never be sorry!

At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure that your customers have a positive experience and are able to finish the action they intended to finish.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s #TipThursday – see you next week!

If you would like to learn more about commercebuild or are looking for an eCommerce solution, let’s chat!

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