What Are Captchas?
According to the official captcha website, a captcha is a program that is meant to protect a website against automatic software or bots by generating different tests that only a human can pass. For example, one such test is distorted text, which is difficult to read for computer programs. Note, though, that there are captcha breaking programs out there that can do it but they are few and far between.
Captcha is in fact an anagram and stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.
So, a captcha can help you by preventing comment spam on your blog, protecting registration on your site, protecting email addresses from being scraped, running online polls to ensure accurate results, preventing dictionary attacks, keeping search engine bots away from your site and even preventing worms and spam being sent through email.
How Can Complex Captchas Hurt You?
Clearly, captchas are meant to help the owner of the website but it is important to remember that online visitors tend to have a very short attention span and even less patience. This is because they can generally find the information they are looking for in more than one place, so if you want to make sure you get as much traffic as possible and keep it coming back for more, you have to offer your readers a pleasant experience. And a pleasant experience has nothing to do with trying to get a captcha right five hundred times and failing miserably.
Sometimes, these captchas that show distorted text are so distorted it’s hard for anyone to figure out what the letters are. What’s worse is that most of the time these captchas don’t have anything to do with real words and are simply a string of numbers and letters, making it even harder for a visitor to get it right. So, after getting the captcha wrong twice, you can be certain that most people will give up and move on.
And that’s if you’re lucky. If you have a captcha system that reloads the entire form and someone has to fill in all their details again after making one mistake on the captcha, you can be sure they are not going to hang around to fill in everything again.
What Can You Do?
Just because complex captchas aren’t exactly the best thing for your subscribers, that doesn’t mean you have to endure comment spam and false registrations. There are alternatives.
First of all, make sure that your captcha system has a clear reload button so people can reload the image if they don’t understand what it says first time. Also make sure that only the image is reloaded and not the whole form. Likewise, a “sound” button also helps so that the computer clearly reads the captcha.
Another option is to resort to different captcha types. For one, you could use actual words instead of gibberish, making it slightly easier for humans who can guess based on intuition, even if they can’t understand what the letters are. There are also other types of captchas that ask questions which a human needs to answer.
For example, “What is the sum of 6 and 7?” or “What is the fifth word in this sentence?” or something similar. These are easy for a human to answer but virtually impossible for an automated computer bot to figure out.
By using simpler captchas that still deter bots, you will be protecting your website while also ensuring you don’t lose any subscribers due to being overly zealous with website security.