Giving customers and prospects a way to reach out via your website is non-negotiable. Heck, that’s probably the major reason your business has a website in the first place. But, if you have a contact form on your website, you may be receiving an insane amount of spam messages. These are awful. They’re obnoxious and can make it difficult to recognize real people trying to get in touch with your business. Luckily, there is a way to significantly cut back on the amount of spam messages you’re receiving through your website. It’s called reCAPTCHA.

What is contact form spam?

Simply put, contact form spam is any message that you wish you weren’t receiving through your website’s contact form. These can be sales pitches, claims that you’ve infringed on bogus copyright laws, or even offers for free money from overseas princes and businesses. They’re annoying…super, crazy annoying. And you may be getting several of them each day. Many of these messages are automated and come from bots, which scan the internet for unprotected contact forms to spam.

Here’s a screenshot of one of my recent favorites, claiming you can make over $1,000,000 doing almost nothing!

How does she do it!?

Should I just remove the contact form altogether?

You may get so overwhelmed by spam messages that you want to pull down your contact form altogether. Don’t. Even if you can’t remember the last time you got a legitimate message from the site, it’s important to give customers and prospects the opportunity to contact you by their desired means. This may be social media messages, emails, phone calls, or contact form submissions. Let them choose.

What is reCAPTCHA?

reCAPTCHA is a product from Google that uses machine learning and an advanced algorithm to prevent bots and software from submitting contact forms. Odds are you’ve come across reCAPTCHA through your daily internet use.

A version of reCAPTCHA security challenges looks like this:

Google reCAPTCHA challenge

Once you’ve selected the images they’ve asked you to, Google will process your score to determine if you are in fact a real person or a computer. You may have also seen more simplistic versions of captcha which ask you to solve a simple math problem before you’re able to submit a form. (There’s nothing quite like being asked to try again on “2+14 = X”).

While bots are getting more sophisticated every day, this will prevent most of them from being able to submit their messages.

How do I add reCAPTCHA to my contact form?

Luckily, Google is on a crusade to stop spammy comments and offers its reCAPTCHA service for free. You’ll need a Google Account in order to set these keys up, but they’re free as well.

Step 1: Visit the Google reCAPTCHA dashboard

Head to the Google reCAPTCHA dashboard and click the “Get Started” button in the upper right corner. You’ll be asked to login to your Google Account. Once you login, you’ll be asked to verify your country and agree to the Terms of Service.

reCAPTCHA login screen

Step 2: Create a new project

You’ll land on the Google Cloud Platform dashboard, where you’ll see an option to “Create Project”. Go ahead and click it.

Give your project a name, something like “my website” will work just fine. Note in the screenshot below that I am using a basic Google account for this demonstration, so the Location displays as “No organization”. If I were logged into my Google Business account, it would be displaying “Creative80”.

Creating a new reCAPTCHA project

After you’ve added the project name, click “Create”.

Side note on billing if you are you new to Google’s Developer Tools

If you’re creating your first reCAPTCHA, you’ll be asked to enable the reCAPTCHA Enterprise API. Go ahead and do that. You’ll also be asked to add payment details. reCAPTCHA is free for the first 1,000,000 calls per month. Most people will never hit this amount. After that, it’s $1 per each additional 1,000 calls. Again, you’ll probably never see an actual charge on your card, but Google has made a habit of requesting billing information before allowing the use of its tools like Google Maps and reCAPTCHA.

Step 3: Complete the details for your website

On the next page, you’ll be asked to fill out the details for your website:

  • Give it an obvious label (using the domain name works well)
  • Select a reCAPTCHA type
    • v3 is the more robust option, showing a score based challenge as displayed in the screenshot above
    • v2 simply requires a user to select a checkbox verifying “I’m not a robot”
  • Add your domains
    • We recommend adding your website domain both with and without the www. prefix (no need to add specific pages that include contact forms, just use your full domain – see the screenshot below.)
  • Optionally add someone else on your team as an owner to the project
  • Accept the terms of service
  • Check the “Send alerts to owners” checkbox (this lets you know if there are ever any problems with your reCAPTCHA key)
  • Click “Submit”

reCAPTCHA site settings

Step 4: Collect your site keys

Once you’ve completed the process, you’ll be shown a site key and a secret key. We’ll use these on your actual website in the next step.

Google reCAPTCHA Site Keys

Step 5: Adding reCAPTCHA to your website

Most contact form plugins will give you the option to add reCAPTCHA directly to their settings. Below, you’ll find links to detailed instructions for installing reCAPTCHA on the most popular plugins and page builders.

If you want a simpler approach or aren’t sure what contact form your site is using, you may want to look into adding an additional plugin to manage your site’s reCAPTCHA. reCAPTCHA by BestWebSoft is a great plugin that allows you to manage where you’d like the reCAPTCHA challenges to display. Options include:

  • Your website’s registration form
  • Login form
  • Reset password form
  • Comments form
  • Contact form
  • Custom forms

Simply add the above site and secret key to the settings of whichever plugin you choose to use.

Can I hide the reCAPTCHA badge?

Maybe you’re not a fan of the reCaptcha badge that peeks in and out of each page on your site displaying a form.

Google’s reCAPTCHA Badge displays in the bottom right corner

The good news is that Google allows you to hide the badge, as long as you mention Google reCAPTCHA in your user flow. This means you can add a small disclaimer to the bottom of your forms.

Google’s required text is:

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google
<a href="">Privacy Policy</a> and
<a href="">Terms of Service</a> apply.

Once you’ve included that text, you can hide the reCAPTCHA badge by adding the following CSS to your site. The easiest way to do this is to copy and paste the below snippet into the Additional CSS area under your site’s Customizer. Get there by navigating to Appearance –> Customize.

.grecaptcha-badge {visibility: hidden;}

If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, you may need to add the important tag to the snippet:

.grecaptcha-badge {visibility: hidden!important;}

The final result will be a cleaner page without the reCaptcha badge.

A hidden reCAPTCHA badge with Google’s required text

It won’t stop everything

Several years ago I added my cell phone number to the national Do Not Call List. Still, I get several unsolicited calls each week. It’s obnoxious, but I shudder to think of what a typical day would look like without being on that list. Think of reCAPTCHA the same way. It is not a silver bullet that will prevent all spam from getting through, but it should make it harder for bots to automatically send spam through your contact forms, which will reduce your spam.

Wrapping Up

Spam form submissions can be irritating when they land in your inbox, but contact and quote forms are hugely important components of websites. Adding reCAPTCHA to your website will do a decent job of significantly reducing the number of spam messages you get, allowing you to focus more on the important submissions you actually want to see.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or need any help configuring your site with reCAPTCHA.

Anna DiTommaso
Founder of Creative80, Anna DiTommaso built the company from the ground up and believes that the key to her success has been cultivating real, meaningful relationships with clients. Anna has appeared in articles on Lifehack, Mashable, Ragan, CEO blog nation, and Business News Daily.