Don’t Let Your CAPTCHA Get in the Way of Your Business

CAPTCHA examples from LastPass forumsMore and more sites are using CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) to keep spammers from registering on web sites, from posting phony comments on blogs, and from generating in-bound breast enhancement messages on forms.

I approve of CAPCHAs in general because they are simple for site users and they cut down on bogus messages, both those publicly posted and those sent to the business owner from a form.

But, enough!

CAPTCHAs are not going to be 100% effective against determined spammers, and efforts to increase the effectiveness of the CAPTCHA test has crossed the line into driving visitors away from doing useful business on some sites.

The CAPTCHAs on the right are full-size copies of ones I copied from my screen this morning when I was registering for a forum on the LastPass web site.  Once I completed the registration form, I would be sent a confirming email to activate my account — another validation step to prove my humanness.  But, I couldn’t get the CAPTCHA right in my first 6 tries.

But, look at these images!  LastPass is doing more than protecting itself from automated comments in its forums, it is driving away real-life users.

These CAPTCHAs are simply too difficult to read.

  • The colored characters are too well camouflaged by both the background color and background pattern.
  • The characters are ambiguously drawn.  8’s and B’s, numeric 0’s and alpha o’s  are possible answers for some of the drawings. How is the user supposed to know which o/0 to choose?
  • There are a variable number of characters in the images.  This makes me wonder if the CAPTCHA-generating routines were working, or if some of the CAPTCHAs are simply faulty and impossible to answer.
  • These CAPTCHAS are particularly hostile to people with visibility issues.  I am not colorblind, but the use of red and green images is plain nasty.  And, unless you blow up your screen, the images are sized for the eyes of the young.

LastPass provides great functionality and responsive customer service, but they’ve joined so many organizations in over-CAPTCHAing their web sites. And, they are far from the worst offenders.

Craigslist is at the top of my list of  CAPTCHA-crazy sites.

Admittedly Craigslist is a very juicy target for spammers and outright criminal frauds.  But, their CAPTCHAs are ridiculous.
CAPTCHAs from Craigslist
The images on the right are ones Craigslist offered to me this afternoon when I was going to post an event for my church — information about the Sunday service.

Before seeing these images, I have had to register with Craigslist. Registration includes providing them with:

  1. An email address which they validate.
  2. A telephone number which they contact with a validation code. The automated message from Craigslist comes into my phone and gives me a numeric PIN which I have to type into a validation page on the Craigslist web site.

So, with Craigslist, I have to have an active account with a checked email address and a validated telephone number.  THEN every time when I want to post an event, I have to type in a CAPTCHA.

And, look.  Some of the CAPTCHAs have foreign-language characters. Others are too blurry for me… maybe an automated character recognition program could read and type in what’s presented by Craigslist, but I can’t!

Time for Dangerous Common Sense for CAPTCHAs

CAPTCHAs are intended to make sure real humans are filling in the forms. But, soon only the character-recognition programs will be able to decode what the CAPTCHA-generating programs have created.

It’s nuts.

Designing your web site design for determined crooks is not good business!  Focusing on the crooks will cost your web site legitimate business.  Pass it on!

Everything Is Incremental

The bad economy has generated desperate calls from owners who are begging for the Internet to save their business.

I wish it were that simple. When I talk to these potential clients, I first have to set their expectations.

Internet MagicThe fact is that a web site and the Internet are not magic. They very, very, very rarely make a site owner a lot of money quickly.

Even if you plot, plan, and work to optimize your web site to return high on Google’s search results, you’re not likely to get rich overnight.

Distrust anyone who promises riches if you hire them to promote, design, or advertise for your business on the Internet. (Or anywhere else!)

Like every other real-world marketing effort, each action you take to market on the Internet will yield incremental results. This is not bad, but it is not magic. For every step you take, you’ll get a few more calls, a few more visitors to your business.

Want a marketing push? Then commit yourself to play in as many of these areas as you can:

  • Create or update your web site.
    Your web site is your primary electronic calling card. Potential clients check it for your style and personality, in addition to looking for concrete information like services offered. People expect your business to have a site, and they expect it to look like 2010 and not 1999.
  • Optimize your web site for search engines (also called “Search Engine Optimization” or “SEO”).
    You’ll want to do some research or hire a professional for this step, but showing up better in Google is well worth it.
  • Advertise your goods or services on Craigslist.
    Really! Craigslist listings are free, and you can use them to point to your web site for more information. Don’t forget to repost the listing or update it every three days so that you’re not lost too deep in the clutter.
  • Identify a target client group and create a direct mail campaign.
    Really, again! This low-tech approach to an identified group of potential customers should get their attention and invite them to check you out on your web site. Start off by use your local chamber of commerce address list or even the membership list of an affinity group (such as a business exchange network like BNI.)
  • Claim and spruce up your local business listing in Google and Bing.
    These are the two major search engines which show maps of businesses when people search for goods and services. You want a link to your business on the map — this is especially important if you’re selling impulse or food items like pizza.
  • Run a Google Adwords campaign.
    Adwords are the “sponsored listings” which show up on the top and right of the normal search results. You can get new visitors to your site for a couple dollars each.
  • Send out a monthly electronic magazine.
    Even if you’re not selling anything people can click on and buy, touching your clients regularly is essential to growing your business. Your monthly message doesn’t have to be very long, and it should not be about you! You want to give your contacts some helpful information that will get them to smile and remember that you’re available to help them. Of course you can help them with a special or coupon in the newsletter, but don’t talk too much about you, your services, or your own wonderfulness.
  • Join and attend regularly a business referral group.
    The best new clients can be the ones that people who know you and your business pre-screen and send to you. So, spend a couple hours each week talking with other business owners. In addition to the straight-forward benefits of a referral, you’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses when you answer standards questions — such as who is a perfect referral for you — as part of the program. Moreover, you’ll learn about trends and area-wide concerns of people outside your industry. Valuable stuff!

There’s more, of course. Almost all of the pre-Internet marketing options remain marketing weapons in your fight for profit.

Each action is helpful. And, none of they is enough by itself!