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The Worst Thing to Put on Your Company Website

Turns out Satan is a Web programmer. Who else would have invented the captcha code -- the often illegible hieroglyphics used to prove you're a human being and not a spammer or other malicious "bot"? Whether you're placing an online order or just completing a simple contact form, this Devil's work now appears on more and more sites.

I recently went to the website of a tiny (like two-person) company and just wanted to send an email, and it shot a captcha code at me. I have 20/15 vision but couldn't get it right. So I asked for another... and another. Finally got a readable one on the third or fourth try. Just to send an email.

I question how many small businesses are at such huge risk of robot attack that they really need these in the first place. I suspect a tiny minority. More likely -- as with so many Web widgets -- companies add them because "they're free, and everyone else is doing it, so why not snazz up our Web page with some slick technology?" Typical poor website decision process.

The most offensive, unfriendly, infuriating captcha of all is the classic "wacky word" characters, often buried within a web of random lines and other such obfuscation:

But it doesn't have to be this way. The best captcha is no captcha at all -- anything that adds friction to the user experience is inherently bad. But if you absolutely must battle the 'bots, there are alternatives that are much more user-friendly. Some are even creative and bordering on fun -- think the Orbitz interactive game Web ads. These alternate captchas are as effective as the original hot mess of nonsense above -- or at least generally considered effective enough for the vast majority of sites -- and they are far less likely to piss people off.

Here are my top four favorites. All are real and available for any site to implement (with the possible exception of #3, which I believe is still in development at google):

CLICK for #4 >>

#4) The simple but effective "number sum" captcha. Add up the numbers and put the total in the box:

CLICK for #3 >>

#3) Google's "rotate the image" captcha, that asks you to use your mouse to turn the image right-side-up:

CLICK for #2 >>

#2) This cleanly-designed "drag the image" captcha. So nicely done that it requires no explanation:

CLICK for #1 >>

#1) And my very favorite, the most clean, creative and least likely to enrage... the "roll the dice" captcha:

As with almost everything in business, and customer interaction in particular, it's as simple as putting yourself in the other person's shoes. Unless you have a darned good reason (and you probably don't), don't do things to customers that you hate having done to you. And EVERYONE hates captchas.

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