Practical tips to effectively using QR Codes


QR codes, those funny square symbols that keep showing up on print ads, direct mail, POS signage, TV and even on email and web sites have been a constant topic of discussion for several years.  What are they? How are they used? Who scans them? Are they effective?
Quick Response (QR) codes can be scanned by virtually any mode smart phone as well as several legacy phones which have a camera.

QR codes can:

  • Open a web site on a phone
  • Play a video on a phone
  • Open the App Store or Marketplace to download an app
  • Initial a phone call
  • Open a new email to send a message to a predefined recipient
  • Open a new text message to send a message to a predefined recipient

Of all these features, the most common is opening a web site, video or to download an app.

To create a QR code, any of these sites can easily help at no charge.

  • — This URL shortener will also create QR Codes for each shortened URL
  • Kaywa — Offers a nice QR Code generator and offers a fee based QR code management and analytics tool
  • — This is one of the best options providing an easy to use interface for various types of QR code actions (email, web, SMS, etc.)

As you create and implement your QR codes, here are a few tips to remember:

  1. Always send to mobile optimized content! When the code is scanned, the user is most likely using a mobile device (phone, iTouch, iPad, etc.), be sure the content they are accessing is optimized for screen size of the device.  If the user has to pinch/zoom to view your content they are more likely to be frustrated and have a negative experience.
  2. Make sure the user receives value from their action.  Asking an individual to use their phone to scan a code is a large leap of faith and for users who do this, they are expecting a return on their investment, their time and energy.  Whether your content is educational, humorous, provides discounts and coupons, quick access to information or ordering a product, regardless, be sure to make the experience positive and limit your desire to include a lengthy form for them to complete.  Remember, they are using their phones so if you need to include a form, ask for the basics you need to follow-up.
  3. Make sure the QR code is big enough. QR codes can be easily scanned from brochures, direct mail, print advertisements, Point of Sale, product packing, product documentation, instruction manuals, television advertising, and even etched into mechanical parts.  Although a little awkward, QR codes can be included on a web site or an email message.  If used on a web site or an email message, be sure to make the QR code also a hot link to your content.  Regardless of how you use the QR code, be sure to make the QR code large enough to easily scan.
    Here are a couple places where QR codes don’t make a lot of sense and should be avoided.

    1. Billboards – remember, people are driving and using their phones may not be safe.  Although passengers may be able to scan, they still may have trouble at different speeds and the drivers may still be inclined to try and scan.
    2. Top of buildings – I recently saw a QR code painted on the roof of a building while flying.  I thought it was odd because we could only see it at an altitude where electronic devices were prohibited and cell/wifi service was unavailable anyway…yes, I tried it.
  4. Use a URL shortener for QR code hyperlinks. QR codes cannot be changes, if using a web site or video, use or some other URL shortener to add metrics to QR code; these services will provide analytics as to how many times the URL was accessed which should be driven by the QR code.
  5. Test, test and retest — make sure the QR code can properly scan on your materials which mean limited changes to the presentation or format of the code.  If possible, test with multiple types of phones, iPhone, Android, etc.
  6. Have a strategy, build your QR code program for scale. For those with more technical resources, remember that QR codes cannot be changed as well as URLs or other URL shorteners. If you have the means to create a redirection and tracking web site you can use the same QR code over time with different promotions and constantly link to different and new content as needed. Essentially, the QR code links to a URL which in turn links to the tracking and redirection web page.  Once it hits this page, the redirection site determines what content to redirect the user towards based upon the current promotion or desired content.  This could be a web page, YouTube video, Facebook content or anything else.  These redirects all happen within a fraction of a second and are transparent to the user. This process allows you to easily track and measure the results of each QR code and update where the QR sends the user whenever desired.  These can usually be created in less than an hour with the help of a qualified programmer.
  7. Study your metrics but don’t be surprised or upset if the numbers are not astronomical.  Currently, only 6% of consumers have scanned a QR code.  Scanning a QR code requires more effort and initiative by the user so even if the numbers are low, these are potential customers who are really interested in your content.
  8. Print friendly uses of QR codes. I mentioned using QR codes on a web site, here’s a great idea for marketers, create QR codes for each page of your site and have your webmaster add the QR code to the print only style sheet for the page (they should know what this means).  The QR code will not be visible when browsing the web page but if the user prints the page, the QR code will be included and acts as a great reference for the user to get back to the site if needed.

If you are interested QR codes, metrics for them or a redirection or tracking web site, please contact me.

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