How to (properly) use a QR code 

QR code

In 2014, I wrote a blog that advised not using QR codes for business until they became native in everyone’s phone camera apps. In 2017, we published an updated blog about the anticipated rollout of the native function in iOS 11 and hopefully Android shortly after that. 

Fast forward to 2022 and those black and white squares are everywhere, and you can scan them with any camera app. It is how we view menus at restaurants, learn more at a display, order food, pull up instructions on how to assemble the world’s most non-intuitive shelving or pay our friends for our half of the tab.

Now that we’re all doing it, it’s time for a QR Code refresher, best practices and a few tips to get the most out of this tool. 

Best practice no. 1: It must go to a mobile-friendly site

Have you ever scanned a QR code at a restaurant and it took you to a PDF of their menu? Worse yet, a low contrast, hard-to-read, multiple column document? There are many low-cost or no-cost ways to build out a mobile-friendly page. Don’t make patrons pinch and zoom to read your menu or information. 

Best practice no. 2: Send them exactly where they expect to go

If the QR code says menu, don’t send them to your home page and make them look for it. If it is for assembly directions, send them to the directions page. Eliminate frustration by giving the user the information they seek easily, with one scan. 

Best practice no. 3: Make it scannable and visible

Technically a QR code should be a minimum of 2cm x 2cm. But if you want people to see it and easily scan it, make it larger and visible. A QR code is simply data. So the longer your URL (more data), the denser the code will be, which reduces scannability, which makes it harder to scan, especially in smaller sizes. Make sure you print it on something that won’t blur or get wet and distorted, and provide contrast between colors. You can place your logo in the center of some codes without a special generator, but test the scan and then test it again.

Tips & tricks

Here are things you can do to make it a better experience and a valuable tool.

Know the difference between static and dynamic codes

A static code is a code that once generated and printed, will always go to the same place. You can always create these for free. A dynamic code allows you to edit the link and redirect it to whatever site you choose. This is helpful if you need flexibility in where the code takes the user. It can be useful for things like signage at events, a link to a video that may be updated or replaced at a later date, or on more permanent signage

Don’t fall for the QR code tracking scam

You can create a QR code for free that will not expire, can be static or dynamic, and you don’t have to pay to know how many times it is scanned. But read the fine print. Many QR code generator programs want you to pay for a service to get more options, to view tracking or to keep your code active.  

Think about what the viewer needs to do before using a QR code

If it is difficult to complete the task at hand on a cell phone, don’t use a QR Code to share the information. Use a simple URL or a URL shortener to share the information so it can be opened easily on a desktop device. Do not send a QR code in a text or email. Just send the link. 

Test, and test again

Always test your QR code before sharing it. Once the code is printed, check in once in a while to be sure your link is active and what the end-user expects. 

And one last tip: Please don’t put QR codes on billboards. 

Jen Neumann is owner and CEO of de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.