QR codes (or quick response codes) are similar to bar codes, but arranged in a square pattern. They are faster for readers to process and can hold much more information in a much smaller footprint. While they’re not new, they have ebbed and flowed in terms of popularity throughout the years. There is temptation sometimes to slap a QR code on everything, but when is it really best to employ a QR code?
To encode LOTS of data
My biggest aversion to QR codes is that humans can’t read them. And while most of us carry around a smartphone that doubles as a QR code scanner, not everybody does. If I purchased a billboard advertisement for Dijon Marketing, I would just put “dijonmarketing.com” at the bottom. That way everyone could read it, remember it, and Google it. I always argue against QR codes for encoding simple, short, memorable data.
If, however, I wanted to send you directly to a targeted advertising landing page, that might have a very long and confusing address. Or if I’m really doing things right, I have probably wrapped that complex URL with even more complex tracking codes. And maybe I then used a URL shortener in addition, making it even less human-friendly. In that case, I might employ a QR code that users could scan, but still put my domain along the bottom for those that don’t want to.
To link to a static location
I would also caution against creating QR codes that link directly to a very specific location. Think about the life of a QR code on a sticker somewhere. It may long outlast our current URL structure. If things change, it’s best to have your QR codes all pointing to easy to maintain addresses. You could employ 301 redirects to jump users from a generic QR landing page directly to the long/complex address you want them to find. If you plan to have lots of different QR codes then having an organizational structure around their destinations will make your life much easier in a few years when you need to make major changes to either your website or your messaging.
To be a little playful
One of the great things about QR codes is that aside from a few key requirements, they can be largely customized. Colors can be adjusted. Logos can be embedded. And if you don’t mind alienating a small subset of people who aren’t carrying a phone, it can be enticing to want to scan the code to see what lies behind. Maybe it’s a menu, maybe it’s a 50% off coupon. Maybe it’s on the side of a building 20 blocks away but I can still scan it with my phone. In that case they are a cool, techy marketing tool to drive a little bit of interest with the little bit of inherent mystery that comes with them.
Now that you’ve got some boundaries about when to use a QR code, try some of these free online generators: