Common Alternatives to CAPTCHA and Captcha for WordPress

What does Captcha Stand For?

CAPTCHA is Greek for annoying.

Ok, not really. It’s actually an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Much like a CAPTCHA is unintelligible to pretty much everyone, the meaning behind the acronym is also ambiguous, because no one knows what a ‘Turing’ test is.

Refugeeks to the rescue! A Turing test is basically a primitive version of the machine / man test used by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. The test is designed to be impossible for a computer to solve, but easy for humans to figure out. In practice, however, this is absolutely not the case. In fact, Internet users almost universally hate CAPTCHA tests because they are often impossible for man or machine to solve.

Worse, a CAPTCHA is not fool proof, as certain OCR programs (Optical Character Recognition) are able to read them. That means that even after subjecting your site visitors to the torturous test of filling out a CAPTCHA, you’re still going to get spam. Your reward, of course, will be less users, visitors, and comments on your blog, because more and more people simply won’t fill out a CAPTCHA these days. With this in mind, it’s a surprise that webmasters are still forcing their users to solve complex and often illegible CATCHA messages to access content or leave messages.

Video: Vicarious Breaking Captcha

Vicarious – Turing Test 1: Captcha from Vicarious Inc on Vimeo

CAPTCHA Alternative 1: Tick Boxes

Thankfully, this tendency towards outright evil on part of webmasters is changing, with sites leading the charge to better and less invasive forms of CAPTCHA tests. One of the most simple and effective methods we’ve found is the check box. You simply ask users to click a check box to prove that they’re not machines. The code is handled with client side JavaScript, so spambots won’t see it, as it’s only visible to the client.


While it’s easy to create, clients who block JavaScript won’t be able to see it, and may instead think your website isn’t working. Even putting up a warning message indicating to users that JavaScript is required to access the site will still quite often result in users skipping past that warning, without changing their JavaScript settings. More often than not, that makes this more effective for webmasters and users with specific needs or expectations, rather than random web traffic.


math question

A more simple method is to put a skill question up instead of a traditional CAPTCHA. This way, users won’t have to try and figure out a seemingly random mess of letters, and can instead solve a simple math problem. The KISS metric is very much applicable here (Keep It Simple Stupid). You don’t want to frustrate users with complex mathematical expressions, unless perhaps your site caters to mathematicians, in which case you’ll want to warn the rest of us in advance.

CAPTCHA ALTERNATIVE 3: Captcha Games and Tasks

These aren’t the only methods, though. More and more are being developed each year, with almost all of them being much easier to solve than a traditional CAPTCHA.

captach games

One such method is task oriented, where users are required to drag an icon to a particular area of the screen. Still others have simple games (see , such as tic-tac-toe, although not everyone has the same level of tic-tac-toe prowess that Refugeeks do. You might want to consider any undue angst losing could cause your more sensitive users. Stopping spambots is great – stopping users, not so much. Others have created games, like PlayThru, which simply require objects to be moved from one place to another on the screen.

CAPTCHA ALTERNATIVE 4: Third party authentication

Other sites rely on third parties to fill the role of CAPTCHA tests, by using existing authentication systems like Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, which have the added benefit of populating form data directly from a person’s profile. This is particularly common on sites that require memberships. For Refugeeks, we use Disqus Comments for WordPress.


Another method involves the honeypot alternative, where a field should be left blank in order for the form to be submitted, while still another has a minimum submission threshold. In this case, spambots, which almost instantly fill and submit forms, will be rejected due to filling out and submitting the form at inhuman speeds. While this might trip up Flash Gordon, it’s not likely to slow anyone else down, so you should be fine.

CAPTCHA ALTERNATIVE 6:Captcha Advertising

captach advertsOther companies are monetizing their CAPTCHA tests, combining advertisements with questions or phrases from the ads. While it’s not necessarily the easiest method out there, it does generate revenue, and can be particularly interesting for publishers or as a business advertisement, letting webmasters create their own CAPTCHA messages and sell them as ad space.


A few creative souls have even leveraged the HTML5 canvas attribute with the $1 unistroke gestures into a shape drawing application. It’s called MotionCAPTCHA, and their motto is ‘Stop Spam, Draw Shapes’. It requires users to draw the shape they see in order to submit the form. As it also supports mobile devices, it’s fast becoming popular with mobile users.


Some of the bigger players in the Internet space have even completely done away with the CAPTCHA altogether. Netflix is perhaps the largest company to take this step to date, instead employing methods such as IP and geolocation blocking. Others green light certain IP ranges and countries, while forcing others known for spam to complete a CAPTCHA.

Captcha Plugins for WordPress

As one of the largest blogging platforms in the world, you would expect some of the above available to wordpress users.

Thinking of monitising captcha? Try KeyCaptcha

Prefer the Math captcha? Try Math Captcha.

Like the Playthru solution? They have a wordpress version.

Want to try Motion Captcha? Try NuCaptcha which uses video.

Or you could use the Google owned and probably the most popular one, Recaptcha

If you want to use third party authentication, try Facebook Comments, Google Plus Comments or like us, Disquss.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that the best decision is usually the one that works best for your users. If you find that most of your traffic or conversions are coming from the UK, but most of your spam traffic is originating somewhere else, consider forcing an IP based CATCHA, or using another of the less frustrating methods described in this article. Your users will thank you, and if you let us know about it, Refugeeks might even feature your solution…

Also, dont forget, CAPTCHA can go horribly wrong :)

See some of the funniest captchas we have seen:

humping captcha fail

are you kidding me

forever alone

skynet knows

stay divorced

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Common Alternatives to CAPTCHA and Captcha for WordPress
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Rishi has been a consultant in online marketing for over 10 years, specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing, Email and Social Media. Over the years he has worked with many brands as well as many small businesses.