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For companies holding Sweepstakes -A MUCH better and MORE EFFECTIVE alternative to CAPTCHAS


I was recently talking with an owner of a company that holds a number of sweepstakes on a regular basis, and realized that I should write this article. He was trying to split test a "captcha form for people entering sweepstakes, versus a non captcha, to decide what was better. Fortunately, it seems he came to the right decision - (In case you didn't know - no captcha -)

Why captchas are a bad idea for a company holding a sweepstakes

On the surface - captchas might seem like a really good idea, but in reality, they aren't. I've literally talked to thousands of sweepstakers over the last 4 years, plus hundreds of companies. No sweepstaker likes captchas (and they just complain non stop about them, in particular the "recaptcha" or the ones that are 'harder' to read). There are countless threads in the sweepstaking forums too about 'horrible' companies that require people to enter captchas.

Companies that have gone ahead and implemented it - while they usually see an immediate decrease in the number of abuses (usually only 1-2% of people who abuse the system), long term (6-12 months) there traffic drops significantly because few people frequent them any more. 

And on top of that... They are:

  • Difficult to read. Many people that enter sweepstakes like to enter for fun. But most captchas are very difficult to read, and users get annoyed when that happens. 
  • Annoying for potential customers. Because captchas are difficult to read, many times potential customers need to try several times before getting it correct. Do you really want a potential client associating your company with having an "annoying" sweepstakes? No, probably not.
  • They can be broken anyways! Someone who 'really' wants to break a captcha will break a captcha. Why do you think there are so many different styles? That's because they've had to keep evolving to keep up with the computer algorithms that crack them. In fact - today a friend of mine sent me a link to some public source code that showed exactly how to break a variety of captchas. It's really not that hard. And - if someone wants a 'cheap' way of doing it (i.e., doesn't have the programming resources to crack a captcha), there are 'captcha' services that only charge $0.01 or less per captcha. (Basically, it's outsourced to India by people who use a combination of software and people to process between 500-1000 captchas/hour). So captchas can be easily broken.

So... since captchas are annoying for 'real' users, but no problem for someone who really wants to abuse a system anyways... All you will be doing is keeping the 'legitimate' people out, and allowing the 'other' people to get in. Plus - on top of that -

  • People don't have time for captchas! I know this might sound funny, but many businesses I've encountered forget that there are 1,000's of other businesses just like them. Of course - their business is special. It definitely is. It adds amazing value to people's lives. But the one thing that they are not usually unique in - is that those other 1000's of companies probably have the same idea of using captchas.

You want to get as many subscribers as possible! Captchas make it difficult, and deter people from entering or telling their friends about your sweepstakes.

So what is the alternative to captchas? BACKEND PROCESSING! And what does that mean...?

It means that it is as easy as possible for a user to enter, and all the processing is transparent to the user. And I'll explain how to do that in just a second.

What are the benefits of backend processing?

  • More potential clients! People like easy stuff. If your form is easy to enter, then it is more likely that you will get more subscribers.
  • Easy for you! It is very easy to implement, and in some respects more beneficial. How? It becomes easier to spot patterns and remove 'invalid' entries, whereas with captchas, you don't have that information.

So how does it work?

What you do, is backend processing. This means that you let users enter normally as they would - but on the 'backend', you just make sure duplicate entries, invalid entries, and so forth, are automatically removed. So for example, you might make sure that someone entering a daily sweepstakes, really can only enter once per day. To do that, you would do something along these lines.

Assuming you are using php/mySQL, you would:

1. When a user enters a sweepstakes, do something called a mySQL select statement to see if they have already entered for that date. So something like:

$sqlString = "Select * from `sweepstakesEntries` where `emailAddress`='$someUserEmail$' and `entryDate` like '%" . $currentDate ."%';"
$result = mysql_query($SQLString,$db);

Of course, database names/connections, etc would be modified to whatever you have set up.

Then, you check the number of times they've entered for that day. If they've exceeeded the one time per day (or how many ever entries you decide), you simply message them saying to come back tommorow. Otherwise, you include the entry as part of the days entry. Something like this:

if mysql_num_rows($result)>1 then
echo "Error! You have entered too many times today!";
echo "Thanks for your entry!";
// do insertion code to include their entry for the day

With these 7-8 lines of code, you'll serve exactly the same purpose as the recaptcha's, get much better results (more people entering/more word of mouth), and less headaches.
Plus, it can be customized for whatever your needs are.

Remember! - As a company - you want to make the process of entering sweepstakes as easy and as fun as possible! You want potential customers (and word of mouth advertising) to be as pleasant and exciting! Processing entries on the 'backend', instead of making users enter some kind of annoying captcha - accomplish exactly that!
Anyways, I just wanted to pass that along this a tip, and hope it helps. Have a great sweepstaking promotion!