You may have seen them on posters or cards: A strange barcode-like box with squares on three corners. They’re called QR codes and the idea is that people scan them using the camera on their phone and are then (generally) taken to a web-page.
It is possible to store information other than a website URL in a QR code, but for this blog post I’m just going to talk about QR codes that store website addresses. If you want a QR code to do something else and you’re not sure if it’s a good idea, send me a comment and I’ll let you know what I think.
QR Codes: Are they useful? Or just a passing fad?
What’s a QR Code?
On your website if you want to send your visitor on to another page or another website, you can either tell your visitor what the address of that page or website is and have them type it into their address bar or search for it on Google. If you’re already online, however, the easiest way to direct a visitor to another web page is to create a link (or hyperlink). Creating a link means that some of your text will be coloured and/or underlined, and when your visitor clicks on the link-text they’ll be able to visit another page (on the same site, or on a different one).
But what if you’re printing the text onto a poster or brochure? You can’t set up hyperlinks on paper!
A QR code is like a link, but for something that isn’t on a screen.
If you want readers of your poster, brochure or card to visit a certain website then you can print a web address (URL) for them to type in (like www.web123.com.au) or print a QR code for them to scan. The QR code simply stores the address of a link and it’s ‘translated’ by a QR code reader. QR codes are only readable by smartphones, and on many phones you’ll need to install an app to use them.
QR Codes vs Printed Web Addresses
Printed Web Addresses
- Easy – Pretty much everyone knows what a “www” means
- No surprises – they know what website they’re going to
- Accessible – Don’t need a special app on a smartphone
- No typos – they scan the code and land on the website
- Fast – Generally quicker than typing
- Could take you anywhere – looking at QR code doesn’t tell you where you will end up
- less accessible – not everyone knows how to use them or has a capable phone
Dos & Don’ts
- Include Printed URL for non QR-code users
- Use when time is an issue (i.e. you want people to like your Facebook Page to receive a discount on their purchase at the till)
- Use a hyperlink if possible
- Point to a mobile-optimised website. No point using a QR code to point to a website that doesn’t work well on mobile
- Print on anything that moves – people can’t scan something that is in motion (i.e. the side of a truck or van)
- Print on anything you can’t easily scan while you’re looking at it
- Print in places people can’t safely scan (no highway billboards or across train-tracks, please!)
Are QR Codes worth it?
In my opinion – not really.
If you think you’re missing out on the Next Big Thing by not utilising QR codes – stop worrying. They’re 99% gimmick and I think the fad is already passing.
In most cases, you’re better to just print your website URL. If the page you want to point people to has a really long or tricky-to-spell address consider getting a shorter URL and setting up a redirection, or use a link-shortening service.
Among the few times I’ve ever seen QR codes used by small businesses in a way which I think works well are on posters or in-store displays encouraging people to like a Facebook Page to receive a discount at the till. (Confession: I never scan the code, I just search for the page on facebook and ‘like’ it that way)
Disagree with me? Do you secretly love QR Codes? Have you ever even scanned a QR code? Let me know in the comments!
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