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How to make good use of QR codes

by Caleb Woodbridge - SEO Consultant. 

Screenshot of QR scanner app, with caption 'When to use QR codes'You've no doubt seen those square barcodes popping up on adverts and elsewhere, and probably know that they are called QR (Quick Response) codes. According to the latest research, they have now been used by 3.3 million people in the UK, which is around 10% of smartphone users nationally.

By scanning QR codes on a smartphone, it’s possible to quickly get web addresses or other information, such as phone numbers or voucher codes, onto people’s devices, without the user having to search online or type stuff in.

QR codes are useful but like any new technology are often overused because they’re “cool” rather than because they are appropriate. Here are some tips on working out when to use QR codes, and when to leave them alone

Will a QR code be more convenient?

For brand names and simple web addresses, often it will be simpler for the user just to type in the address directly or search for it in Google. Although QR codes are quick, they’re not instant: by the time someone has scrolled through their app drawer, opened their barcode scanner, pointed and waited for it to focus and scan, not a few seconds will have passed. And if they’ve got an older phone with a sub-par camera, trying to get a code to scan can be an exercise in frustration.

But QR codes can be particularly useful for deep linking to specific information. For example, an estate agents near us in Cardiff has a display of current properties in the front window, and has QR codes that link to further details of the property on their mobile site. That’s a good use of the technology, because finding more information on that specific property would be quite fiddly on a phone, even with a mobile-optimized site and decent search facility.

Other examples where QR codes can be useful include links to product listings, real time information, voucher codes, and information points in museums or tourist attractions.

Will people be able to scan it easily?

QR codes have been turning up in all sorts of wacky places, from crop fields to footballers’ heads. Some of these are PR stunts rather than intended for actual use, of course. But for most uses, it’s important to consider if people will be able to easily scan them.

QR codes need to be printed clearly and at sufficient size and quality, as well as visible for sufficient time. The outside of a bus is not a good location for a QR code – people will only have time to scan it when stationary. Similarly, if you include a QR code in a video, make sure that it’s onscreen for long enough, or that it’s easy to pause it on the code.

Will users have mobile signal?

Another basic consideration is whether people will actually have Internet access in the location you’re targeting: QR codes in in-flight magazines or on Tube advertisments might not be the best place for them. (Though wi-fi is being introduced to certain London Underground stations)

Are you targeting mobile?

If you use a QR code, make sure it links to a page that’s mobile optimized! Whether it’s through responsive design or a mobile-specific site, you want to make sure the page is easy to read and use on a smartphone

Are you measuring usage?

If you start using QR codes, one of the things you’ll want to do is see how effective they are – how many people are using them? Do people who reach your site via QR code go on to buy something, or subscribe, or make contact with you, or whatever your site goals are? If you’re using Google Analytics (which we’d strongly recommend), then you can create a custom URL to embed campaign information.

Is the QR code on a webpage?

You don’t generally need QR codes for URLs on webpages. Since the reader is already online, just use a hyperlink!

There are a couple of exceptions to this: one is when you want to make it easy for the user to go from something on their desktop computer to something on their mobile phone.

For example, reviews of mobile app often include QR codes so that the reader can scan it to go directly to the app store listing. Addresses and phone numbers might also be usefully embedded in an online QR code.

The second exception is to make it easy to share a link to another mobile phone. But tech-savvy users who want to share a link from one device to another can often just as easily text or email the information across, and the new NFC-equipped devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, allow information to be transferred just by tapping devices together.

Creativity, not jumping on the bandwagon

The best uses of QR codes will always be those which are creative, rather than just following existing patterns and trends. There are plenty of ways to use them well, but the best ideas will be ones that are tied to your specific website and business, and to the particular audience and market you’re trying to engage with.

If you’re just trying to be down with the latest technology, you’re already too late – lots of the tech cool kids are saying QR codes are passé and pointless. Nothing is less cool than chasing the latest fads and being late to the party. But if you’ve got a great idea for using QR codes, go for it!

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