QR Codes: 7 Tips for Success

QR Codes are cropping up everywhere – in magazine ads, posters, product packaging, how-to books, DVD and Blu-Ray extras and more.  But for every great use of QR Codes in online marketing strategies, there are 10 poorly conceived and executed QR Code disasters.  Here are 10 tips to make sure your QR codes are most definitely NOT a disaster.

First, let’s be clear about what QR Codes are.  “QR Code” stands for Quick Response Code and is actually a trademarked term that stands for a type of matrix, or 2D, barcode. These codes can be read by electronic devices to extract data.  In the world of online marketing, QR Codes have come to be used by smartphones and other devices, typically to take the person scanning the code to a website URL.


QR Codes can be used for the following main strategies:

  • Send someone to a web page
  • Send a text message
  • Dial a phone number and make a call
  • Send an SMS message
  • Download a vCard with contact info onto a user’s phone


Tip #1: Make sure the destination URL (landing page) is accessible via mobile devices

This is the most common mistake a first-time QR Code advertiser will make.  They’ll be very excited about adding a 2D barcode to a brand new magazine ad that links to their website, because it makes them look hip and cutting edge, but their website is not hip and cutting-edge, and certainly isn’t mobile-friendly.  Now they’ve gotten people to engage by scanning their code, then promptly lost them to a broken link or inaccessible web page.

Tip #2: Make sure the landing page pays off for the visitor

So you’ve planned your QR code landing page and made sure it displays correctly on mobile devices.  What’s the payback for visitors? If you’re just sending customers to your home page, there should be a compelling reason for them to go there.  Sure, YOU love your company, but always ask yourself, “what’s in it for my customer?”

Instead of sending them directly to your home page, think instead of specialized destinations like:

  • a newsletter sign-up page
  • exclusive downloads
  • customer service pages
  • live chat
  • demo videos
  • social media accounts
  • exclusive coupons
  • expanded product information
  • installation instructions
  • MSDS sheets
  • customer service surveys/feedback forms
  • contest and promotion sign-ups
  • ecommerce “buy now” pages

Key question: How can you improve communications, customer service, and customer experience with your landing page?

Tip #3: Test!

There are lots of QR code generators out there, plus there are settings like “error correction” which allow for loss of data while still working.  With all the options out there, never assume that just because you created the QR code using a free (or even paid) app on the internet, that it will work.  Avoid costly mistakes by testing your code on multiple devices, using a few different QR scanning apps.  Some of the most popular code readers used by mobile phone users include ScanLife and RedLaser. As you might guess, they don’t always work when you expect them to.  If you test your code and are having trouble, see Tip #4 below.

Tip #4: Use a URL shortener

I won’t bore you with the fancy calculus and formula for determining the optimal QR code based on URL character length and error correction settings. Instead I’ll give you a rule of thumb: shortening your URL with a tool like bit.ly or goo.gl will help you generate a QR code that is more likely to work. If you’d like to see the full explanation, check out this in-depth article on QR Code generation on Search Engine Land.

Tip #5: Use a Google Campaign URL

Now that you’ve come up with a great strategy, would you like to know how successful it has been?  You can track how many people get to you website from your QR codes by using a Google Campaign URL.  For instance, let’s say you want to place a QR code on your product packaging, another one on your yellow pages ad, and a final one on your business cards.  To see which one of these generates the most website traffic, use the Google URL builder to add special code to each of the 3 URLs that will then get passed on to your Google Analytics reports.  This means you’ll have a unique 2D barcode for each of your advertisements, even if they are all going the same place.

Tip #6: Size matters

Think carefully about where your QR code is going to be displayed.  For optimum scanning depending on where you’re putting your 2D barcode, you’ll need to reduce or enlarge the size of your QR code.  How well your QR code scans is a combination of scanning distance vs. barcode size.  If you have a tiny 2D barcode on the banner in your storefront window, people will have to get very close to it in order to scan it. Conversely, don’t put a massive QR code on a magazine ad, because then potential scanners will have to hold their phone way back in order to scan the code. It bears repeating – test! This time, test the actual QR code size and scanner distance.

Tip #7: Consider branding your QR code

Did you know that you can modify the QR code you generate?  There are some hard and fast rules, but in general you can make quite a bit a changes before the 2D barcode will stop working.  A good rule of thumb is 30% changes.  As long as you stay away from the 3 corner blocks (which code readers use to orient themselves), and you keep the background primarily white for contrast, you can be incredibly creative in branding your QR code.  Take a look at this gallery of beautiful QR codes from Mashable. (And of course, test your beautiful QR code!)

(Advanced) Tip #8: QR as integrated SEM strategy

Google’s new algorithms have got search engine optimizers scrambling for the new and better ways to drive traffic to websites reliably.  At the same time, more and more people are browsing the web via their mobile devices. If you’ve been spending a significant amount of money on search engine marketing to help people find your site, there may be substantial cost savings by helping consumers find you and your products through strategic placement of QR codes instead of PPC ads.  Think of the savings if only 25% every person who sees your ad, billboard, product packaging, etc. is moved to scan your QR code instead of typing in a search and clicking on a paid link.  Take a look at the amount you’re spending on paid mobile search today.  QR code marketing may be even more important to your bottom line than you think!