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Please enter dflasdfai2341 to continue: CAPTCHA and beyond

Form Optimisation

Almost all of us have at some point filled in a CAPTCHA code – an often warped and slightly illegible series of words that you have to enter in order to complete a registration process or submit a witty comment on a blog.

CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, and is a type of test used to ensure that a response is being given by a human. Designed to keep out Daleks, Terminators and most importantly bot-generated spam, it serves to stop automated submissions of web forms such as a sign up or comments on a blog.

CAPTCHA cartoon

As a quick aside, reCAPTCHA, Google’s free CAPTCHA service, is actually a pretty cool project. Based at Carnegie Mellon Univeristy, reCAPTCHA takes all the mental work that goes into typing those pesky letters and puts it into something useful. When users are entering the seemingly random words, they are in fact helping digitally transcribe printed texts. According to the reCAPTCHA website, over 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans every day; if the average time spent doing a CAPTCHA is 10 seconds then that amounts to 150,000 hours a day.

So, at least one type of CAPTCHA has a worthy aim, but as we all know, there are some significant drawbacks to insisting on using these Robocop bothering questions. Take the below for example:

CAPTCHA examples

What on earth is a muaumwwv? Is it a verb? CAPTCHAs are often illegible, and can resemble a strange magic eye problem where only a particular angle and a degree of eye crossing can make the childlike scrawl seem like anything resembling letters. I wonder if anyone, anywhere in the world, has a hundred percent success rate with CAPTCHAs – if there exists such a person, I hope they are a local celebrity and have a bronze statue erected to them. I wonder if anyone has a seventy percent hit rate. I doubt that too, which means that a third of the time users are getting the entry wrong first time.

Most people see CAPTCHA codes as a necessary evil, but you might want to reconsider your approach. Given its possible impact on conversion rates (and definite impact on completion times) you may want to dispose of them altogether. Hopefully, if you use form tracking (and we hope you do – if you don’t, give our beta a whirl!) and find out that your drop off rate is pretty high for the CAPTCHA field, you will be damaging your conversion rate, and definitely will be affecting your website’s usability, and sometimes, credibility….

Facebook CAPTCHA

If you are going to use a CAPTCHA, then consider what type of word or phrase you would like to pop up. Why have two random words, when you could have a positive reinforcement of what your user is trying to achieve by completing your online form? Ticketmaster US is a great example of this (and a great call to rise up and fight the machines bots):

The above two examples at least reinforce the idea that attending an event or a gig is an experience to look forward to (and worth enduring a CAPTCHA for…) and also subtly reminds you that Ticketmaster is on Facebook. You might just leave the Ticketmaster site and head for their Facebook page…

If you placed the CAPTCHA at the beginning of the process, it may actually have a priming effect, whereby if you include words that reinforce the aim of completing the form, or just include words associated with patience, perseverance and awesomeness, your users may actually have higher completion rates than if you did not have the CAPTCHA in place. This is complete conjecture however, but something that we at Formisimo are going to dig further into, so watch this space.

If you do want to keep some form of filter on your online form, consider not using a CAPTCHA at all (there are alternatives) or at least think of a more imaginative way of keeping out those Cybermen…

You could try a Maths Puzzle – ‘What is 7 – 3?’ but the trick here is to find a problem that everyone can solve regardless of education level, but that will keep determined spammer bots and HAL 9000 out. Is there such a sum? Ask a Trivia Question might also be tempting, but it may also be difficult to find a simple enough question and it may also keep out non English speakers.

So what is best? Ubokia’s system is a good one:

Are You A Human also do a variety of game based CAPTCHAs that take a few seconds, but are a much more pleasant experience. Make hot chocolates, put food in the fridge, and many more mini games serve as actually a very pleasant few seconds. You can try a demo here, but be warned; it is actually quite addictive.


So whether or not you decide to ditch a CAPTCHA entirely should depend on the size of your business. If you are relatively small, consider cutting it and seeing a rise in your conversion rate. For the larger site or more security conscious, perhaps consider a couple of words of encouragement, or even a visual based mini-game to minimise the headache of that obstacle within an obstacle, the CAPTCHA.