Concealing content behind captchas is a crappy SEO practice – Know Why?

3 min read

In the ever-evolving landscape of the Internet, captchas have managed to secure a spot as one of the most persistent sources of annoyance, second only to popups. As of 2023, their reputation for frustrating users remains intact. However, it’s essential to recognize that captchas have evolved to address security concerns and user experience.
While the irritation caused by captchas is well-known, their impact has far-reaching consequences beyond just user frustration. One notable issue is their potential to hinder conversions. Visitors encountering captchas while interacting with a website often disrupt their flow and can lead to abandonment. This drop in conversions can directly affect a website’s success, deciding whether or not to implement captchas a significant one.
An additional drawback of captchas is their impact on search engine visibility. Specifically, Google and other search engines may need help accessing content hidden behind captchas. This can result in lesser search rankings and reduced website visibility utilizing these security measures. This aspect poses a considerable concern for website owners and creators who rely on search engine traffic to drive engagement and reach.
Nonetheless, it’s essential to view captchas from a balanced perspective. Captchas protect websites from malicious activities and spam in the evolving cybersecurity landscape. As the digital realm advances, security threats also evolve, necessitating a continuous effort to stay ahead of potential vulnerabilities. Captchas remain a reliable line of defense against automated bots and unauthorized access.
Recognizing the dichotomy, it’s prudent for website administrators to find a middle ground that prioritizes both security and user experience. While captchas might be necessary to thwart security breaches, their implementation should be well-considered. Leveraging newer, more user-friendly captcha techniques can help balance maintaining security and ensuring a smooth user journey.


However, there are workarounds. While captchas are inconvenient, they should not be avoided.


All of this was stated by Google’s John Mueller during the Search Central SEO office hours on September 24, 2021.


To this john Mueller stated 

“Googlebot doesn’t fill out any captchas. Even if they are Google-based captchas we don’t fill them out. So that’s something where if the captcha needs to be completed in order for the content to be visible, then we would not have access to the content.


If, on the other hand, the content is available there without needing to do anything, and the captcha is just shown on top, then usually that would be fine.”


However, as he mentioned, there’s a deeper layer to this issue. While captchas can be employed, they shouldn’t obstruct access to content. With this perspective in mind, he also provided insightful suggestions on how to harness captchas in a user-friendly and optimized manner for usage.

To ensure that a captcha doesn’t block your Google view, Mueller recommends using the Inspect URL tool in the Search Console.


“What I would do to test is use, in Search Console, the inspect URL tool and fetch those pages and see what comes back.


On the one hand [check] the visible page to make sure that matches the visible content. And [then check] the HTML that is rendered there to make sure that includes the content you want to have indexed. That’s kind of the approach I would take there.”


This approach would offer a resolution to your predicament. However, if you find it necessary to employ a captcha for content access, there’s an alternative solution: you can redirect or present a different version of the page to Googlebot.


While users must complete a captcha before accessing any content, Googlebot enjoys access to a version of the page free of captchas. This allows the content to be utilized for ranking purposes, enabling you to achieve your objectives while implementing captchas.


“From a policy point of view we’re okay with situations where you serve us the full content, and you require a captcha on the user side. If you need to do that slightly differently for Googlebot or maybe other search engines than you would for the average user from our point of view, that’s fine.”