Google reCaptcha adds half-second global site drag.

WordPress Mobile Speed

Updated: August 2019


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Why does Google repeatedly mess up web speed? We don’t know. The harder they try – the worse it gets. Here’s another unrecognized offense against mobile speed.

What’s the cost of placing Google’s “NoCaptcha reCaptcha” on your precious website? Most site owners don’t realize the heavy speed impact of adding this Google-sponsored freebie. It’s speed-destroying bad news. NoCaptcha reCaptcha negates your hard work tweaking away milliseconds.

So what is NoCaptcha reCaptcha – and how did it get such a goofy name? This is what it looks like today (see image below). We’re sure you’ve seen it before. It appears on many sites – big and small. All you need to use it is signing up for a Google API.

NoCaptcha reCaptcha is an automated robot sniffer. It’s supposed to be intelligent. It monitors the user-approach path toward the button. Its original form was a sort-of-simple reCaptcha to catch spambots.

“A significant number of your users can now attest they are human without having to solve a CAPTCHA. Instead with just a single click, they’ll confirm they are not a robot. We’re calling it the No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA experience.” – Google

API means “application programming interface.” It’s a set of protocols and tools for building application software. APIs are always several calls or requests to remote servers. This takes time and causes delays. The scripts used aren’t cached as part of your website. There’s no escaping the speed burden APIs cause. Does Google gather site data from its APIs and fonts? Of course. Why do you think it’s free?

Above is the old-style reCaptcha. You had to read either numbers or letters from a photograph – or fuzzy squiggly words. Then enter those into a field. This annoyed people for obvious reasons. Can you read those dim numbers? Squint!

reCAPTCHA was acquired by Google in September 2009. It historically was difficult. Google used warped pictures that were hard for bots and humans to fill out. Blurred, jiggled, or fuzzy backgrounds were an ugly mess. Now it’s condensed into a Javascript widget (API), known as the new noCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA. No more letters and numbers that are hard to read, simply click the widget to proceed. Sounds great.

Does it always work flawlessly? Nope. We attest to that from personal experience. If you fail the human test, it presents pictures to recognize. These include things such as “click on all the road signs” or “click on all the storefronts.” It can present never-ending pictures – even if you’re careful. Usability nightmare.

Google introduced reCAPTCHA v3 in November 2018, which promises a new “frictionless user experience.” Earlier versions of the API stopped bots but also drew the ire of internet users across the globe. Users were regularly inconvenienced with distorted text challenges, street sign puzzles, click requirements, and other actions to prove their humanity. Annoying!

The WordPress Plugin Directory has dozens of standalone plugins and contact forms that make use of reCAPTCHA in some way. Sites that are already set up to use v2 or the Invisible CAPTCHA, will not automatically update to use v3. There’s a different signup and implementation process that the site owner has to perform before having it integrated on the site.

Before reCaptcha existed, “captcha” was used on comments, forms, and logins. Preventing and blocking spammers and hackers was the goal. A captcha was real simple. It had no API. It usually asked you to answer a question, describe a picture, or solve a math challenge.

Here’s a typical math-challenge example:

OK. We’re joking.

A math challenge was something more like: “What is 1 + 1?” Or a text challenge might ask, “What color is the sky?” But some people answer azure or cyan – instead of blue. Does simple captcha still work? Yes. Do they add to page weight? No. Do they thwart SPAMbots? Yes. So why use a slow, heavier, sophisticated noCaptcha reCaptcha? Is Google spying on your site? We don’t know. It makes no sense whatsoever. So you’ll feel faddish and hip?

Captcha and reCaptcha are used to protect comment forms, login forms, register forms, rest password forms, and block spam comments.

There are over 50 captcha and recaptcha plugins in the free WordPress plugin directory. We downloaded them all to check them over. We aren’t making any recommendations. Why? Because captcha or reCaptcha – and especially noCaptcha reCaptcha – aren’t necessary in the least. Other plugins can take care of security and SPAM blocking without UX hassle for you or users.

So how bad is the noCaptcha reCaptcha speed damage? From our limited tests, here are the results:

Google NoCaptcha reCaptcha adds 350 to 550 milliseconds globally to your website.

When we say, globally we mean site drag. That is where a plugin or script slows down every single page and post of your website. Not only the page where a shortcode or appearance is located. Everywhere.

How many HTTP requests or calls are added? Between 11 and 20. It depends on variables. It’s not always the same. Again, don’t ask us why. It’s a Google thing.

The real kicker is sometimes server connections don’t happen smoothly. Then load times are unpredictable. Users complain of delays of up to 30 seconds. That’s correct. Not 30 milliseconds. Seconds!

We just don’t think noCaptcha reCaptcha is worth it – especially for mobile devices.

REFERENCES & QUOTES

“Embedding any CAPTCHA service essentially forces your users to accept the CAPTCHA provider’s privacy policy before they can use your application. The CAPTCHA provider doesn’t need to disclose how information is gathered by the service or how it is used.” – offsite source:  https://techbeacon.com/app-dev-testing/captchas-can-be-harmful-4-alternatives-better-security-ux

image: https://uxdesign.cc/recaptcha-is-uxs-worst-nightmare-c28b7341e88a

“One of the most popular alternatives to the dreaded CAPTCHAs is the Honeypot technique. … Sure, this technology is not perfect, but it is a smart way to enhance your submission form UX and pleasantly surprise your users with no need to fill in those annoying CAPTCHAs anymore while staying safe from bots.” – offsite source:  https://designmodo.com/ux-captcha-effect/

“CAPTCHA has a huge effect on UX. A number of sites have experimented with this, and most have reported an increase in conversions of 3 – 33 percent when removing CAPTCHA.” – offsite source: https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/33211/does-captcha-really-affect-ux

“Honeypots are extra bits of code used to catch bots without users knowing that they exist. The most common example of this is the hidden form field. … Bots, however, will still recognize the field as legitimate and fill it out. If the field is filled out, the form is automatically rejected. The benefit of the hidden form field is that it doesn’t impact the user experience.” – offsite source:  https://www.gravityforms.com/rip-captcha/

“Embedding any CAPTCHA service essentially forces your users to accept the CAPTCHA provider’s privacy policy before they can use your application. The CAPTCHA provider doesn’t need to disclose how information is gathered by the service or how it is used.”

“Web developer Casey Henry discovered that CAPTCHAs were driving down the conversion rate of visitors to registered users by 3.2 percent in the 50 sites he manages. After he disabled the CAPTCHAs, there was a 4.2 percent increase in automated registrations, but he got the 3.2 percent of real users back. He decided that it made more sense just to build tools to sort out the spam rather than keep the CAPTCHAs. Video slideshow creator Animoto made a similar decision after it saw its conversion rate go up by a third when it eliminated CAPTCHAs.”

“The simplest solution is a honeypot. It’s an extra field with information you don’t need, but automated processes will dutifully fill it in anyway. Hide it from normal users via the CSS property visibility:hidden and reject any submissions that fill in this field. They are obviously from a bot.” – offsite source: https://techbeacon.com/app-dev-testing/captchas-can-be-harmful-4-alternatives-better-security-ux

“The Honeypot method tries to completely do away with interrupting the user workflow, something all other CAPTCHAs unfortunately do. The Honeypot method screens out bots by fooling them into auto-filling forms. These hidden-field forms are invisible to human users, so there is little risk of confusion. Problems arise with browsers that auto-fill without prompting the user (lookin’ at you, Safari), and for advanced bots that circumvent this.” – offsite source: https://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/design/captcha-alternatives-better-u

“The first thing you should consider is to just not have a captcha.”

“Developers, web designers, user experience professionals.
You’re smart, creative, empathetic people.
Google “captcha alternatives”. Start questioning them.
You can do better than a captcha.”

“Everyone struggle with captchas, not just people with disabilities. Many have conducted A/B tests and shown how they hurt conversion rates.” – offsite source: https://axesslab.com/captchas-suck/

Webnographer conducted an online usability test where only 62 percent of users completed Captcha on their first try. 23 percent gamely struggled through multiple attempts before succeeding, but 15 percent gave up entirely.

Godspeed—

Steve Teare
performance engineer

Mobile WordPress Speed – without coding!

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