Avenue 25 - Advertising and Design

Invisible Captchas

Dave Wright - Web Manager Dave Wright Web Manager

Online forms are convenient, time-saving tools with one annoying trait: the “prove you’re a human” challenge. These pesky little tests (called captchas) originally began as mostly words and numbers, with the text distorted to the point of illegibility, and the visitor was asked to type in a match. Nowadays you might see a more modern version that looks like a simple checkbox. However, if Google isn't quite convinced you are a real person, you might be asked to solve a puzzle. For example, you might be shown 9 images and asked to click all the squares that contain cars.

What is this all about?

Spam. You're probably all-too-familiar with spam, which can be especially irritating if you're the owner of a business website. Your site might have a form on the contact page that asks the visitor to enter his name, email, and message. Soon enough, you start getting emails that are clearly spam, where the name doesn't even look like a name, the email is a big jumble of nonsense, and the message looks like an attempt to sell YOU something.

Why does it happen?

Spammers want to get messages to your inbox for a variety of reasons. It could be they want you to buy something. Or perhaps they are checking to see if there is a real person looking at the email (so they can build a marketing mailing list and sell it). Also, spammers may want to trick you into giving up private information like passwords.  And on and on. Regardless of the motivations, there is fortunately a large industry focusing on anti-spam and Google has taken a lead role in the fight against spammers.

reCAPTCHA was initially released about 10 years ago, and was acquired by online marketing powerhouse Google a couple years later. Since then it has been constantly improving, and the newest development is the most user-friendly of all. Instead of deciphering text that's difficult for a computer (or even a human) to read, or solving a matching puzzle... you won't have to do anything.  No boxes to check, just fill out the form and submit. That’s it.

How does it work?

Google isn’t offering up any detailed explanations - probably because they don't want to give any clues to the spammers who are trying to beat the system. My guess is that the system takes dozens (if not hundreds) of factors into account, and if your score is above a threshold, it lets you through without asking you to solve a puzzle. What factors? Google might examine all the behaviors you exhibit while on the page, and then decide if it is more human or robotic behavior. These behaviors potentially include mouse movement, page scrolling or lack thereof, if anything was typed, etc. You can see how this becomes a race: as robots get better at imitating human behavior, it becomes harder to tell what's spam and what's not.

What does this mean to me?

As Google's new invisible captcha becomes more widespread, we should start seeing fewer captchas that require people to decipher words or solve puzzles. The work of determining if you're a human will happen more and more in the background, leaving your potential client in peace. And if you're a website owner and you're frustrated from the enormous amount of spam you get through your contact form, it is probably time to add a captcha.

Before the introduction of the invisible captcha there were two legitimate arguments against having a captcha on your site: potential leads would find them too annoying and leave your site, or they simply were intrusive, ugly and ruined the look of your form (gasps from the graphic designers, web designers and other creative marketers). The invisible captcha addresses those concerns as there is nothing added visually to the form itself, and the visitor is only presented with a puzzle to solve if Google can't determine if the visitor is human.

Want to add a captcha to your site, or upgrade your current captcha to the invisible version? Or is spam the least of your worries and you simply want to talk about upgrading your outdated website?  Here at Avenue 25 Advertising, we have an awesome team of creative professionals and web development experts that stay ahead of the curve on the latest trends for your website design and development project. Let's talk!