Blog Tips Tuesday 8: Should I use CAPTCHA on my blog?

Blog Tips: CAPTCHA and comment spam

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We’re always told as bloggers that a key way to build our audience and connect with other bloggers is to comment on other people’s blogs. This is all well and good, and I try to leave at least as many comments on other blogs as I receive on my own, but there’s one thing that drastically decreases the chance that I will leave a comment on someone’s blog – CAPTCHA! This post focuses on what CAPTCHA is, and why you shouldn’t be using it on your blog.

(NB: the contents of this post are just my opinion! I know there are a lot of people who agree that CAPTCHA should not be used, but presumably there are also some people who aren’t bothered by it, otherwise no-one would use it. Read on and see which side you fall on!)

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This is a ‘beginner’ blogging tip, aimed at those who have just started to blog, and are trying to decide how to set up their site.

What is CAPTCHA and why do people use it?

CAPTCHA stands for ‘Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart’. This is CAPTCHA:

CAPTCHA and comment spam

 

 

 

It’s that box that pops up sometimes when you’re trying to leave a comment on someone’s blog, asking you to copy the numbers or words that you can see in the box.

The reason that some bloggers have CAPTCHA installed on their blog is because it reduces the number of spam comments that they receive. Sometimes non-human ‘bots’ automatically leave spam comments on blogs – it’s something that all bloggers have to deal with. Since these robots don’t have eyes like humans do, they can’t read the CAPTCHA code, and therefore it stops them leaving a spammy comment on that particular blog.

The reason that these bots want to leave their spammy comment on your blog is because they want to gain a link back to their own spammy website (remember when we talked about getting an SEO boost from linkbacks?).

Spam comments can take lots of different forms. Here are a few that I have in my spam folder right now:

“You’ve made some really good points there. I looked on the internet for more info about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.”

Seems innocent enough, no? Perhaps it would make sense if it was on a Blog Tips Tuesday post, but this spam comment was posted on a recipe post, so it caught my eye as being a bit out of place. Plus the website that the person/bot had linked back to seemed really spammy, so into the trash it goes.

“Free Webmaster Guide. I get read your own article. It’s extremely helpful. We will benefit a great deal from the item. Fluent.”

Spam comments are often written in really terrible English! I have no idea what they were trying to say with that random ‘fluent’ at the end but whatever it was, it didn’t work. The ‘free webmaster guide’ part was a link back to their page, as expected.

“Now we can play jeux de Mario moto, with lots of new friends and enemies, as well as cool new features. When all is said and done, learning how to cook has never been easier. Adventures and mazes etc stimulate the mind to think and find solutions.”

Of course, this was then followed by a whole load of links. I don’t even know why they bother.

So should I use CAPTCHA on my blog?

In a word: no.

Considering how irritating these spam comments are, why is CAPTCHA such a bad thing? Well, because as well as reducing spam comments, CAPTCHA reduces useful comments as well.

You’re meant to be encouraging someone to leave a comment on your blog, not making it harder for them. If I’ve spent time writing out a lovely comment for you, why should I then spend another minute copying a hard-to-read list of numbers into a box? Most of the time I’ll do it, but the chances of me leaving another comment on that blog in the future is very slim.

That might sound petty, because when it works properly, filling in a CAPTCHA code only takes about ten seconds or so. But, that’s the thing: when it works properly. Firstly, the code is deliberately difficult to read (so that non-human bots can’t somehow read it automatically) – so the chance of making a mistake and needing to do it a second, or even third, time isn’t that slim. But I’ve also found that sometimes, even when the correct code is entered, it still rejects it – and I’m certain that the correct code has been entered, that’s not just me having bad eyesight!

In fact, on occasion I’ve even discarded a comment that I’ve already written because I simply can’t be bothered making five attempts at writing a silly code into a silly box. It just seems pointless.

How can I stop spam comments if I can’t use CAPTCHA?

There are several other ways to avoid publishing spam comments on your blog:

Comment moderation

The simplest way is to turn on comment moderation. This means that you will have to read any comment that comes in, and decide whether or not you want to publish it on your blog.

Pros: If you read each comment thoroughly, you should have a 100% success rate, and no spam comments will end up on your blog. I also find the spam comments pretty entertaining, so this method means you get to see them all.

Cons: If you get more than, say, ten comments a day (including spam, which can be a lot!), this is quickly going to become a bit of a chore.

Akismet

Arguably the most popular WordPress plugin to use to combat comment spam is Akismet. This is what I currently use. Akismet automatically filters spam comments into a separate folder, and they never get published on your blog. It’s worth occasionally checking through this folder and emptying it if you’re sure it only contains spam.

Pros: Everything is done automatically, so it doesn’t take up any more of your time. It also tends to be pretty accurate at determining whether a comment is spam or not.

ConsOccasionally, a real comment will be flagged as spam for whatever reason. This is very rare, but it explains why it’s worth giving your spam folder a glance once in a while.

Here are my Akismet stats:

Akismet accuracy rate

As you can see, a few comments slipped through the net, but considering it caught nearly 30,000 spam comments, with a 99.82% accuracy rate, I’d say it’s pretty good overall.

GrowMap

Another WordPress plugin that combats spam comments is GrowMap. This plugin adds a small checkbox under your comment form, that says ‘confirm that you are not a spammer’. The commenter just needs to check the box to show that they’re a real person. I don’t personally use this plugin, but I think it’s a good option – it’s nowhere near as much of a burden to the commenter as CAPTCHA is, and it’s unlikely to put anyone off commenting.

It looks a bit like this:

GrowMap comment spam plugin

 

 

Pros: Easy to use, not too much of a burden to the commenter.

Cons: You don’t get to read all the ridiculous spam comments you get sent! (may or may not be considered a con…)

Disqus or Google+

Use a different comment system, like Disqus or Google+. These systems require the commenter to be logged in before they can leave a comment, so it reduces the chance of a spammer being able to leave a comment.

Pros: Makes it really easy for some people to comment – if they’re already logged in, they can literally just type their comment and send it without adding any more of their details.

Cons: Not everyone has a Google+ or Disqus account. Although these accounts are easy to create, it might discourage someone from commenting if they know they’re going to have to sign up for something new before they can comment.

So there you have it – there are at least five alternatives to CAPTCHA that won’t annoy your commenters, and won’t decrease the number of comments you receive like CAPTCHA does.

The key point to all this?

If you have CAPTCHA on your blog, please get rid of it!

(sorry if that turned into a bit of a rant. I can’t be the only one who hates CAPTCHA, no?!)

More blogging tips:

How to reduce your bounce rate
How to find out how many times a blog post has been pinned
How to add titles and alt text to images
How to start a blog in 5 minutes
How to make a blogging media kit
How to set up a Facebook page for your blog
When to use ‘nofollow’ links

Comments

  1. VFB says

    Cookies for comments (A wordpress plugin), will cut down 99% of your wordpress spam, and akismet will catch the rest. The plugin has 2 functions. Firstly it places a cookie on the users computer via an image, a spammer’s programs will not download images (Slows down the spam rate). If they don’t have the cookie, they can’t comment. Secondly it says that from the first time a user visits the page, they can’t place a comment within the first X seconds. So if a user comes, and 2 seconds later places a comment, pretty obvious they didn’t read the article.

    Disqus and Google+ are great at cutting back spam, but they are also great at cutting back on real comments. Users need to go through the process of creating a new account, or have to use their real identity in the case of Google+. Both of which deter real users.
    VFB recently posted…Dairy Free Spinach SmoothieMy Profile

  2. Layne says

    Agreed! I know it only takes a few extra seconds, but the CAPTCHA drives me up the wall. I will sometimes go ahead and leave a comment if I really wanted to, but if it doesn’t work the first time, I’m done. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way! :)
    Layne recently posted…DIY Leather Drawer PullsMy Profile

  3. Emma says

    I agree that CAPTCHAs on blogs are kind of annoying, but I do know two cool things about them and why they are so hard to read (which won’t make them any less annoying to fill out, but still).

    If they were just straightforward letters and numbers, someone could very easily write pattern-matching software which would “learn” the shapes of A-Z and 0-9 and then would almost instantly search through the image, find the different numbers and letters, and essentially read the CAPTCHAs. (I’ve had to write software like this for my research, and it works surprisingly well, considering I’m really not that great at programming. So I imagine that this would be incredibly simple for someone who was actually a programmer.)

    The more interesting thing I learned is that they were originally just random letter/number combos, but now most CAPTCHAs you come across are actually reCAPTCHAs, which are helping to translate old/hard to read scanned books into digital text to help archive books. It’s pretty incredible how well it works. You can find out all about it by googling reCAPTCHA.

    (Sorry for nerding out. The scientist in me finds these things fascinating!)
    Emma recently posted…Meltiest MarshmallowsMy Profile

  4. Amy @ Long Drive Journey says

    CAPTCHA is so annoying. Once I’ve worked hard to leave a comment, I usually follow through and try to figure out the code, but that never happens without me leaving frustrated. I understand that everyone struggles with spam, but there are better ways to eliminate it than such an annoying plug-in. I’d rather do a little bit of work on the back in (occasionally checking Askimet for real comments) than make my readers do work every single time. I personally don’t like the check this box if you are not a spammer plug-in either, but it seems to be getting popular.
    Amy @ Long Drive Journey recently posted…The best (and only) veggie burger I’ve ever hadMy Profile

  5. kellie@foodtoglow says

    Like everyone else commenting, I too loathe CAPTCHA. There are a number of blogs that I persevere with, despite the CAPTCHA but for the most part when I pop my comment in, fill out the personal stuff then see those deformed and dark letters (or the dreaded house numbers!) I just think, ‘why did I bother?’ My eyesight is pretty poor so I am at a disadvantage, but even when it isn’t so indistinct and I get it right, it can still reject me. Some people new to blogging probably don’t know they even have CAPTCHA as they don’t comment. I wold urge new bloggers to ask someone whether it pops up. WordPress bloggers don’t have to worry about this as the brilliant Aksimet catches the spam. Disqus is okay because of guest commenting option, but I also don’t like it when a blog makes you sign in to Facebook or one of the other social media players. I have quite a few non-bloggers and somewhat older commenters at times (I have a discreet section on my blog for those having dietary issues during cancer treatment). I hate putting anyone off with devices designed for OUR convenience. We should be encouraging rather than obfuscating reader and author communication. Great article, btw. We are all on our high horse about AKISMET now!
    kellie@foodtoglow recently posted…Citrus and Roasted Winter Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate DressingMy Profile

  6. The Kitchenmaid says

    Hi Becca – thanks for this post, I’ve found it really interesting (gaah, that sounds like something a spammer would write!) I hate captcha, but I think I hate spam more. Hmmmmm. I think you might have convinced me to give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen, right? Now I’m going off to read more of your tips!
    The Kitchenmaid recently posted…How to turn your blog into a bookMy Profile

  7. Michelle @ A Dish of Daily Life says

    I agree with you 100%. I can’t stand Captcha! Most of the time I have to enter it more than once…once we get to 4 and 5 times, I’m ready to dump my comment and never come back to the blog using it! I use Akismet and never once has a spam comment come through. I check every so often because as you said it does occasionally flag a real comment, but I just approve those to let them go through. Visiting from Thistlewood Farms!
    Michelle @ A Dish of Daily Life recently posted…How to Organize any Space {Guest Post}My Profile

  8. Lynne Gill says

    Sorry, late to this party as new to your blog (see earlier (later???) comment) CAPTCHA is the devils own work! Drives me round the bend and I give up after 3 goes. I use comment moderation myself – I can’t claim to be inundated with comments so it suits me fine, and with a maximum of about a dozen or so comments I can always answer each one; I also find that all the spammy ones are filtered out for me. I will say that the newest captchas -the numerical ones, are a lot easier to read so less irritating. Nevertheless it is sooooo nice to just be able to comment and go. As you do here, thanks Becca.
    Lynne Gill recently posted…Green Shoots.My Profile

  9. Beth Ann Chiles says

    I LOVE your blog tips and I am in total agreement about CAPTCHA. I visit a couple of blogs that use it and it drives me nuts to have to fill it out every single time I want to make a comment. The only reason I stick with it is because I really want to leave a comment. Thanks for the great helpful posts!
    Beth Ann Chiles recently posted…6 Years Later–A GiveawayMy Profile

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