Why You Probably Don’t Need Google Recaptcha

No one likes spam. We jump through all kinds of hoops to prevent it- adblockers, spam filters, math problems, Google Recaptcha, Akismet, the list goes on. In our quest to can the spam we’ve tried all manner of solutions. Sometimes, we even go overboard. This is an article on just that- going overboard.

How can we possibly make too much of an effort to squash the spam that haunts our comment sections, our inboxes, our form submissions? This is a topic that’s less about effort, and more about using the right tools for the job. We’ve noticed that a lot- A LOT- of our users are taking advantage of the Google Recaptcha feature in Ninja Forms. That’s great- that’s what it’s there for. It’s also quite possibly one hoop futher than you or your visitors may need to jump to stay spam free, however. Bear with me for a minute while I explain.

What Spam Protection Does Ninja Forms Offer Me Natively?

No one is advocating going out into the wilds of the interwebs unprotected. We have your back even if you don’t take a single measure to prevent spam. There’s a lot of first time WordPressers out there that don’t even realize the quantities of creepy crawly spam that can infiltrate their form submissions with no protection in place. That’s a terrible user experience, so we’ve designed Ninja Forms to fight spam without you ever having to lift a finger.

Ninja Forms comes equipped with a native honeypot feature out of the box. No setup, no configuration, it’s there working for you from the moment you activate the plugin.

What’s a Honeypot?

a pot of honey- google recaptchaA honeypot is a field designed to catch spammers in the same way an actual pot of honey (or a nice tall glass of sweet tea or sugar water) would catch flies. It’s a hidden field placed into every Ninja Form that is programmed to make form submission fail if anything is entered into it.

The vast majority of spam submissions come from automated programs that crawl the web looking for parts of a website to exploit. When they see a form, they are programmed to fill in every field. They can’t tell the honeypot field from any other field on the form, and so they fill it out and form submission automatically fails. By that time the program is off crawling greener pastures.

Honeypots are highly effective and used by web security professionals around the world for many, many applications ranging from spam filtering to network security. There is a high probability that Ninja Forms’ native honeypot feature is all you need to prevent the majority of form spam.

Why Not Google Recaptcha?

There is no question that Google Recaptcha is effective. Like a honeypot, it exploits a weakness in the automated spambots that crawl your website looking for things to exploit. Instead of being tricked into filling in a field that causes submission to fail, Google Recaptcha presents a required field that spambots struggle to fill in properly. Heck, most of us humans can’t read them half the time. And that, that’s exactly where the problem lies.

Negative Impacts of Recaptcha

Recaptcha presents not just a formidable barrier to spambots, but to your leads, contacts, and anyone trying to fill out your form. A fairly fundamental principle of any business is to lower the barriers between your product or service and the consumers that want them. Recaptcha hurts your website in 3 big ways:

  • Accessibility
  • Convenience
  • Conversion

Accessibility

Standard Recaptcha makes your form difficult enough to submit as it is. For a visually impaired individual, it essentially makes your form useless. Standard Recaptcha has been identified as one of the greatest barriers to accessibility on the modern web by accessibility advocates.[1] Google’s NoCaptcha feature reduces that burden, but it’s not an issue on hardly enough people’s radars. It’s effectiveness is also in question to a certain degree.[2]

Convenience

Recaptcha’s most obvious flaw is the fact that it is just plain and simple a pain in the rear to complete. That’s obviously a very subjective statement, but there’s objective evidence to back it up in abundance. Consider these findings from a Stanford University study[3]:

  • Almost 33% of the time, any 3 given users cannot agree on the interpretation of a visual captcha
  • More than 66% of the time,  any 3 given users cannot agree on the interpretation of an audio captcha
  • Visual captchas take ~10 seconds for a user to complete, audio captchas almost 30 seconds.
  • Users who do not speak English as their primary language have to devote ~20 seconds to solving an English captcha.

Conversion

Your marketing team’s new campaign has attracted just the right people to your page. The exquisitely designed lead magnet has captivated a new visitor. Your carefully crafted call to action is inspired, your potential new lead is ready to do exactly what you’ve spent hours designing all this for aaaaaaand… now please verify that you’re human by pondering this grossly distorted image for something vaguely resembling a series of numbers or letters for a while before you can get what you came for. No, thanks.

There’s no question that Recaptcha’s inconvenience harms conversion. One study by the web engagement and usability group Moz found a 3.2% conversion decrease with Recaptcha enabled.[4] That’s not massive, but it’s probably more than you can comfortably dismiss out of hand.

Should I Be Using Recaptcha?

google recaptcha fieldThere are clear drawbacks to using Recaptcha, so the bottom line is that no, you shouldn’t be using it unless there is a compelling reason to do so. The key question to ask yourself is Do I have a form spam problem without Recaptcha? If no, then you should not be using it. Ninja Form’s honeypot feature should be all you need in the majority of cases. If yes, then you have to weigh the balance of the spam submissions you do receive against the negative effects of Recaptcha on your users and your website. Does the benefit outweigh the drawbacks? That’s a question only you can answer.

We hope this has shed some light on Google Recaptcha and helped you make a more informed and conscious decision about its use on your website. If you have any questions at all, feel free to fire away in the comments below!

  1. http://usability.com.au/2011/11/accessibility-barrier-scores-2/
  2. http://venturebeat.com/2014/12/24/googles-no-captcha-recaptchas-may-not-be-as-bot-proof-as-we-thought/
  3. http://web.stanford.edu/~jurafsky/burszstein_2010_captcha.pdf
  4. https://moz.com/blog/captchas-affect-on-conversion-rates

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