Spam in all forms is a plague upon the internet, with around half of all emails being spam. However, spam can also impact your website through comment spam, fake account registrations, and even orders. A WordPress CAPTCHA solution can help mitigate and even remove this blight on your site.
For this post, we’re going to look at how to implement a WordPress CAPTCHA using one of the best available plugins. First, however, let’s discuss spam in general, then talk about how CAPTCHA can help you.
Why spam is a problem for many websites
Spam on WordPress websites is an enduring part of the internet. It makes up nearly half of all email communications alone and, at one point, comprised around 70 percent of all emails. However, email isn’t the only area where you’ll need to deal with spam:
- Comments are a problem too. This is where you’ll find links to malicious websites, some of which will be potentially inappropriate for some ages. This can erode your community if you use comment sections to engage with your users.
- A malicious user can ‘game’ trackbacks and pingbacks to look like you’re linking to their site. This benefits them rather than the other way around. This is a similar situation to comment spam.
- While fake accounts aren’t spam, the content they produce can be. Hackers will create fake profiles and registrations to spread other types of spam and even malware. Some incidents can see your e-commerce store suffer from fake orders, which hits your real-world income.
On the whole, spam is a time sink for you and a scourge for everyone. It offers no benefit to the user or the site owner. Almost all spam is malicious and will look to profit using underhanded tactics. It can also make your site look untrustworthy and erode your image, driving away users.
Of course, fake accounts and orders are a deeper issue. At its core, these accounts take up resources from real users and customers. Fake orders can also see you send out products that will cost you money.
On the whole, you’ll want to reduce spam to a minimum – it is near impossible to do so completely – and the best way to do that is to use a CAPTCHA for WordPress.
An introduction to CAPTCHAs
At its very core, CAPTCHA is a type of test that makes it easy for humans to pass but incredibly difficult for computers to pull off. The test is not fair – it is biased toward humans. This bias makes it less of a hurdle when it comes to implementing CAPTCHA spam protection on websites while ensuring spam is minimized.
Before using CAPTCHA on your WordPress site, you’ll need to manually remove spam links from your comments and hand-select accounts to delete. This will ensure you kick things off with a clean slate. You can use tools such as the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS,) the Spam Prevention Early Warning System (SPEWS,) and the Anonymous Postmaster Early Warning System (APEWS) for guidance.
However, these are only lists of known spam IP addresses, so you will need to do some manual work. Later, the Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) system will help to automate spam prevention.
A brief guide to the evolution of CAPTCHAs
The first version of CAPTCHA used letters with different kerning, skews, and other tricks to make it harder for computers to read. To pass the test, you’d need to type the skewed text with 100 percent accuracy into the available box.
However, there are now several different types of CAPTCHA. Image CAPTCHAs are popular, as you have to select all images that correspond to a given word.
You’ll notice that this example also has the option to use audio. This is important for those with accessibility needs, such as people with low or no vision. For this CAPTCHA, you’ll hear a phrase obfuscated with background noise. This means bots and other automated systems designed to crack a CAPTCHA will struggle.
reCAPTCHA is another type of CAPTCHA that started out many years ago. In its first iteration, users had to solve hard-to-read words that computers couldn’t. This security solution contributed to the digitization of old books since it took the words from scans of physical books. ReCAPTCHA was acquired by Google in 2009.
However, the latest version of Google ReCAPTCHA doesn’t require solving any puzzles. Instead, it tracks user behavior to determine whether they’re human or not, thus offering a seamless spam security solution without introducing extra steps for the users.
Just like everything else, CAPTCHAs are not perfect and have their own pros and cons, which we’ll cover next.
The benefits and drawbacks of using a CAPTCHA spam system
Despite all the positives a CAPTCHA can offer, there are a few negatives to note:
- CAPTCHA can put a dent in the user experience. Generally speaking, users don’t like to use CAPTCHAs, and many sites may see reduced traffic when one is deployed. This is easily mitigated if you use reCAPTCHA v3.
- There are still accessibility issues with CAPTCHAs that you’d need to understand and provide for before adding CAPTCHA.
- CAPTCHAs can be bypassed. Some malicious companies will employ cheap labor to solve them.
While CAPTCHA has a few drawbacks, the benefits far outweigh any cons. CAPTCHA benefits include
- Protection of login forms, comment forms, registration pages, and other types of forms to reduce the amount of spam you receive.
- Mitigation of automated brute force attacks
- Straightforward implementation, especially if you have a WordPress website (as we’ll discuss shortly.)
If you choose to implement CAPTCHA for an e-commerce store, you can stop automated fake registrations and accounts in their tracks. ReCAPTCHA is perfect for this. By extension, this will also cut down on fake orders.
How to use a WordPress CAPTCHA to eliminate website spam
Across the rest of this post, we’ll look at how to implement a WordPress CAPTCHA system on your WordPress website. It’s a three-step process that starts with choosing the right plugin for your needs.
Add a WordPress CAPTCHA plugin to your site
The first step is to install the right WordPress CAPTCHA plugin. There are lots available, but only one gives you the ultimate in flexibility and usability. What’s more, the WordPress CAPTCHA plugin installation process is as simple as any other WordPress plugin. Let’s take a look at it.
Introducing CAPTCHA 4WP
If you want a plugin that lets you implement all sorts of WordPress CAPTCHAs, provides universal compatibility with your forms and comes with a whole host of customization options, CAPTCHA 4WP is the ReCAPTCHA plugin you’re looking for to stop spammers in their tracks.
It lets you add a WordPress CAPTCHA to your site, with a number of benefits:
- You have a quick setup process that takes minutes at most.
- You’re able to add WordPress CAPTCHAs to your WordPress login page, password reset page, comment sections, registration forms, lost password pages, and much more.
- WooCommerce store owners also have the opportunity to add CAPTCHA to the WooCommerce checkout and login page to help stop fake accounts and orders. There’s even the ability to specify where you want to place the CAPTCHA
What’s more, there are no ads within the plugin, and a premium license gives you a year’s worth of updates and support. Note that you’ll also need your own reCAPTCHA keys, with a dedicated knowledge base article and other tutorials available that will walk you through the process.
Once you install and activate the plugin, you’ll spot the CAPTCHA 4WP menu item on the WordPress dashboard. From this screen, you can begin to set up the plugin.
Adjust the core settings of the CAPTCHA 4WP plugin
The CAPTCHA 4WP > CAPTCHA Configuration page within WordPress lets you handle the entire setup step by step.
First up is choosing the right type of CAPTCHA for your WordPress. There are three to select from:
- Version two. Users need to tick a checkbox confirming they are not a robot. This is also known as the NoCAPTCHA ReCAPTCHA
- The ‘invisible’ variant of version two. In most cases, the user won’t know they are going through the CAPTCHA process because there will be nothing to do. However, if the algorithm detects suspicious activity, the user must fill out the CAPTCHA.
- Version three. This is also invisible but looks at user behavior and interactions to create a ‘score.’ A high score ensures a pass, while lower scores fail the test.
Once you make your selection using the radio buttons, enter your site key and secret key into the appropriate fields. The plugin will validate your keys, ensuring you have everything you need to display a WordPress CAPTCHA on your site. From here, you can begin to tweak the placement and design of your CAPTCHAs.
Fine-tune the plugin to your exact needs and display your CAPTCHA
The CAPTCHA Configuration page gives you a number of optional settings to make the whole experience better for your users.
For example, when using version 3, it lets you change the sensitivity of the CAPTCHA check by setting a score threshold. There are a few other helpful options here too. For instance, you can set a theme, size, and custom error message for your CAPTCHA. However, none of this will help if a user can’t access the CAPTCHA itself.
To set this, head to the CAPTCHA 4WP > Settings & Placements screen within WordPress.
Without a WordPress plugin, this step would need time, money, resources, and technical knowledge. However, CAPTCHA 4WP lets you choose the correct placement using checkboxes. For instance, by default, you can add CAPTCHAs to your login page, comments pages, and more.
The premium version of CAPTCHA 4WP gives you many more plugin settings options. For example, you can add CAPTCHAs to Contact Form 7, Mailchimp for WordPress, WPForms, BuddyPress, bbPress, and other third-party plugins. In addition, you can also add CAPTCHAs to WooCoomerce forms, including login and checkout pages.
Once you choose the right placements for your site’s needs, save your changes. At this point, your WordPress CAPTCHA will be up and running and fully functional.
Suppose you want to provide a better experience for your site’s visitors, not to mention reduce your maintenance and administration. In that case, you’ll want to rid your website of spam comments and fake user registrations. The best way to stop spambots is with a WordPress CAPTCHA plugin.
CAPTCHA 4WP offers a wealth of functionality to do this, along with a straightforward setup process. Even better, you have a bunch of out-of-the-box integrations with WooCommerce, Contact Form 7, and much more.
Pricing for a single-site license for CAPTCHA 4WP begins from $24.99 per year, comes with no ads, and gives you a year of updates and support. However, you can always start with a free CAPTCHA 4WP plugin trial before deciding whether you want to commit or not.