It's Official: Captchas Are Bad for Business

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Nearly a year ago, we told you captchas had seemed to become a necessary evil for websites. Between the spam and the abuse, web forms just aren't secure, and it felt like the only way to combat it was with those nasty captchas.

Captchas have always felt like a cop-out. As a business, you're passing your own business problem onto users. Moreover, the way in which the problem is passed onto users is half-assed and can cause loads of confusion.

Fundamentally, that's just wrong.

About the Study

I hate to say I told you so—wait, no I don't—but, according to a recent study by SEOmoz, captchas could be costing you conversions. Here's how their case study broke down:

  1. It was performed across 50 websites, each ranging from one to five years old.
  2. The study was done over six months, splitting it evenly with captchas on for three and off for the other three.
  3. Each form was used to collect common contact information (name, address, etc).
  4. Every successful, failed, and spam form submission was recorded and tallied for the numbers you see in the study.

The Results Are In

The results, shown in the graph below, weren't that shocking to us considering we've all been in the same position with captchas before and had at least one failed attempt in our lifetimes. See for yourself.

Results of three months of testing with captchas on across fifty sites.

In the graph, blue shows successful conversions, green indicates a failed submission, and red shows spam submissions. At first glance, the results are striking, but note the scale and the y-axis—we start at 600.

Still, we're looking at 7.3% lost opportunity because of a single element on your page. And while some spam got through without the captcha, we can't help but wonder if a powerful spam filter like Akismet could help decrease those occurrences. We use it on our own blog here and have had wild success with it.

It's worth noting that in a similar situation, a single change to a web form button brought in an additional $300,000,000. What's this mean for us and captchas? Well, in other words, that 7.3% of failed conversions could be costing you thousands of lost conversions and who knows how much lost revenue.

So, What Now?

We had plenty of feedback in the comments of our last post. The consensus has been that we have captchas, and they keep out the spam, but they are really a pain for users and not the best solution—but what else do we have?

The best solutions so far has been using what's called a "honeypot," a form field hidden to users like you and I, but visible to the typical spam bot. They're called honeypots because, like bees to honey, spam bots flock to any form field. There are numerous variations out there, and the premise seems quite sound. But can we count on this holding up in the future?

Not likely. We're sad to say that spam is inevitably here to stay. However, designers, developers, and businesses can make huge differences by solving this problem in better ways that don't create bad experiences for users. The business reasons alone should make such solutions even more appealling.

Our suggestion? Take notice, don't (mis)place problems on your visitors, and don't forget to use design to creatively and effectively solve your business problems.

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