Knock, knock. Who’s there? ‘A spam bot’.
If you’re a web administrator or website owner, then you are bound to know the ugly truth that is the Spam Bot. Someone, somewhere in the world must have made a deal with the Devil in hopes of a larger payout that didn’t exactly pan out the way they.
Thanks to the mastermind behind them, those pesky little underlings crawl the web ready to cause mischief at every turn. This means more work and more time eaten up for the honest web admin who is left to clean up the mess left in their wake.
However, we are not left to combat these digital rats ready to steal links and time all on our own. Other hero-minded people saw the need to fight off these spam bots and they created systems and tools to help others to just that.
One such tool is CAPTCHA.
What Is CAPTCHA?
CAPTCHAs are nothing new to the experienced web surfer. Sites, both large and small, use the system for one reason or another.
But, ever wonder where in the world the people who coined the phrase, CAPTCHA, came up with that nonsensical name? Well, you may find it interesting to know that the strange word is actually a clever acronym meaning the following:
Completely Automated Public Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
What a mouthful! Now aren’t you happy that they shortened it?
The actual meaning of the word essentially explains exactly what its purpose is: keeping pesky bots out and letting in well-meaning humans (or at least that is the hope).
The CAPTCHA program does this by running a challenge-response — generally in the form of pictures with numbers or a set of smeared looking words — that is used to see if you really are human after all. The best part is that since it is an automated system you don’t have to do a thing to make it work. But perhaps the question we should ask is why this type of system works at all.
Simply put, a human can read or understand the words, pictures or numbers displayed in a CAPTCHA form and enter them in the correct area, whereas a bot can do no such a thing. It may seem like a small issue, but the CAPTCHA system has proven to be beneficial for more than one reason.
Why Use CAPTCHA?
The answer to that question can be summed up in one word: Spam. Not the food product, but the time-wasting, nails on a chalkboard, shoot yourself in the foot out of sheer irritation, Spam. (Not like I hate the stuff or anything *wink*.)
On a more serious note though, spam is not only irritating, but spammers (both robot and humans alike) can — through no fault of your own — have a negative impact on your site’s SEO.
CAPTCHA can be used in a few ways, but there are two that at the top of the list:
- Blocking Spam Emails | Don’t you hate it when you go to open a seemingly important email only to find that it is spam? Yeah… me too. If you want or need help help blocking those pesky emails, then using a CAPTCHA submission form at the end of your contact page/form can help to lower the number of junk emails that wind up in your Inbox or Spam folder
- Blocking Spam Comments | Perhaps the most irritating thing a website administrator has to deal with is spam comments. Sure, plugins like Anti-Spam Bee or Akismet can capture those bot induced spam comments and send them to the spam folder in your WP dashboard, but they can’t actually stop such comments from being submitted. Using a CAPTCHA form on your comments may be slightly tedious for your commenters’, but using it can eliminate a large chunk of those spam comments from even happening in the first place. This means that you can spend more time on the good bits of running a WordPress site, and less on comment moderation — we all hate that part.
For as great as using CAPTCHA on submission forms may be, there is one thing it can’t do.
What CAPTCHA Does Not Do
CAPTCHA is a great anti-spam solution, but like so many spam-swatters, it can’t do everything you’d like it to. As the meaning of the name tells us, CAPTCHA is used to help keep Spam Bots from clogging your system. It can’t, on the other hand, keep humans with spammy intentions from mucking things up.
A person can still bypass the CAPTCHA system and leave an annoying spam comment that’ll have to moderate later or send an email that you’ll end up having to clear our sooner rather than later. It’s annoying, but that’s just how it is.
Even still, using the CAPTCHA system can be of a huge benefit. If you want to save yourself some time and stress-induced headaches, then you should probably consider implementing CAPTCHA on your site.
Thankfully, with the use of WordPress plugins, integrating the system into your site(s) has never been easier.
Top CAPTCHA Plugins
CAPTCHA forms can bring down spam across your entire site. Not only do many of WordPress plugins listed below add CAPTCHA forms to both comments and contact forms, many allows take the hassle out of other areas on your site where you may experience spam attacks.
The WP-reCAPTCHA plugin is rather simple and straight forward in terms of blocking spam comments, but it isn’t as simple as install-and-go. After you install and activate it, you’ll have to go to Google’s reCAPTCHA site and generate your personal API keys to start using the plugin.
However, all the steps to get it set up properly are simple and easy to follow so don’t let the API keys scare you off. This plugin is also handy at blocking fake registrations on your site.
Want something with all the bells and whistles? This the WordPress plugin, aptly named Captcha, could be closer to what you’re looking for.
Not only does this plugin integrate a CAPTCHA form on comments, it can also be used on the following:
- Contact Forms
- Registration forms
- Password recovery
- WordPress Login
You can choose all or simply one of these options in the plugin’s Settings area in your dashboard. It has other handy features like translation files for use on sites that use languages outside that of english.
Although the smudgy looking CAPTCHAs that are ever popular on the web tend to scramble the brain, they do have security advantages. If you are looking for that type of CAPTCHA form, then this plugin is probably exactly what you’re looking for.
If you’re anything like me, you likely think that the average CAPTCHA form is both ugly and not exactly user-friendly. Well, the Sweet Captcha plugin eliminates both those issues.
Instead of asking a user to decipher and enter a distorted word or mathematical equation, the Sweet Captcha plugin uses cute images for its response challenge that are both easy to understand and playful.
Cuteness factor aside, this plugins has just about everything you could want out of a CAPTCHA plugin. It’s cross-browser compatible, translates into over 15 languages, works on popular mobile devices and works on comments, contact forms and more.
Though not a standalone CAPTCHA plugin, the Contact Form 7 plugin is a great contact form plugin option that easily integrates with CAPTCHA plugins (like Sweet Captcha that was mentioned above) to help with the catching spam emails. The standard contact forms in WordPress do the job of getting emails to you, but this plugin is my go-to contact form plugin for many reasons, but one of the big ones is the ease of CAPTCHA integration.
SI CAPTCHA is yet another straightforward CAPTCHA plugin for your WordPress site with a couple bonus features: it is fully compatible with WPMU and BuddyPress.
The plugin works on comments, registration, and lost passwords as well as your user login page.
Spam is a big issue for all websites, including sites ran on WordPress. Although CAPTCHA forms don’t completely eliminate spam mongers, when you use it with other popular spam blocking plugins like Akismet, you really do have the advantage on the spam bot battlefield.
If your site allows comments, then using a CAPTCHA form will save you a lot of time when it comes to moderating comments on your site. Personally, I like the Sweet Captcha WordPress plugin, but you can choose any CAPTCHA plugin that suits your needs.
All the choices listed above are completely free, so you can test a few out before making a final decision one.
By Ariel Rule
Ariel is a WordPress Web Designer, Freelance Blogger and small business owner. When she’s not working with clients or writing on her Mac, she is drinking coffee and spending time with her amazing boys.