What exactly is a QR Code?

You may have noticed the small, black and white square codes that some companies are now including in their magazine ads, on their packaging and even on billboards and movie commercials. These boxes are known as QR Codes, which is short for Quick Response Code. These codes are much more powerful than standard UPC barcodes, which can only store a 12-digit number.

What do QR Codes do?

The amount of data the code stores depends on the size of the quick response code, but the ones you see in magazines and on products are large enough to store a Web address. You can scan QR codes to obtain more information on a product or company using your smart phone’s camera. You’ll also need an app designed to decode them. Free apps are readily available on both the iPhone and Android platforms. The apps will decode the quick response codes and direct you to the Web site or phone number encoded in the image. Some Android phones and Blackberries come with the necessary software preinstalled, all you need to do is launch the quick response reader app and capture the code with your camera.

Where do QR codes come from?

QR codes were originally developed by a subsidiary of Toyota to track vehicles throughout the manufacturing process. The codes are quickly decoded and contain much more information than traditional barcodes, which only store data horizontally. Quick response codes store data both horizontally and vertically and they can be scanned from any angle, which is not possible with a traditional barcode.

Why use QR codes?

While you can certainly type a company or product’s URL directly into your smart phone’s browser to view their data, quick response codes offer a quick and easy workaround to typing URLs. Typing long URLs with the small keyboard provided on most smart phones is a hassle and they are often typed incorrectly as a result.

You’ll see these codes popping up on more and more marketing materials as well as on packaging. Quick response codes have even been used in movie previews to provide moviegoers additional information on an upcoming movie.

Increase your business with QR codes

Businesses can use these codes in a variety of ways. Besides using them to track products and parts as they move through production, you can add your code to all your company’s correspondence and advertising materials.

While it’s true that consumers can type your URL in their Web browser to access your Web site and contact information, more and more people are using their smart phones to surf the Web and access information. Quick response codes can direct customers to your Web site without requiring them to type in your Web address.

Smart phone users simply launch a free app on their phone, snap a photo of the QR code and the app will direct them to your Web site, draft an e-mail to your company or allow them to download a catalogue, depending on what information you put into the code.

Have a go – it’s free!

These codes are free for you to produce and free for people to scan, so there’s no reason not to give them a try. If you’re interested in tracking their effectiveness, use a URL shortener, such as bit.ly or goo.gl. These sites allow you to generate a shortened URL that redirects viewers to any URL you would like.

You’ll also get statistics, including how many people have clicked on the shortened link, when and where they’re from. You could use separate shortened links and quick response codes on different types of sales materials, such as business cards, catalogs and print advertisements, to determine how people are being directed to your site.

How to get the most out of QR codes

While they are typically used to drive traffic to a company or person’s website, the possibilities are endless.

You could direct people to your Facebook page, website or any other URL you’d like, you could encode a phone number or e-mail address making it easier for people to contact you, or you could encode it to start downloading a file. The choice is yours.

What to encode?

The first step in creating a code is deciding what you want to encode. If you’ll be encoding a website of any sort, consider using  bit.ly or goo.gl as they provide statistical information about how many people click on the link. Shortening your URLs is important because a shorter URL means your code will have less black dots. This usually reduces the number of errors people encounter when scanning and makes it easier for people to scan quickly.

How do I get a QR code?

If you’re interested in creating your own codes for use on business cards, advertisements or other materials, there are several web sites that will generate the codes for you based on data you provide. Many places offer free codes, and some places even offer a dashboard that can track and manage these codes. A good mobile solutions company should be able to provide you with at least three free types of codes. This technology is free so you should never pay for the basic “QR to landing page” style code. However, you may wish to purchase more advanced codes if the need arises.


Once you’ve determined what you want to encode, you can get a free dashboard to create your code, or you can get someone to develop a customized code that incorporates your logo into the design.  Codes can be customized in other ways too. They can be resized, but don’t make it too small or users may have difficulty. You can also alter the colour of your code, but make sure there’s enough contrast between the code and the background.

Tell customers what the QR code does

It’s a good idea to inform people of what they’ll get if they scan your code. If you’re directing them to your website or your page on Facebook, let them know that with some simple text above or below the code. People are more likely to scan your code if they know where it’s going to take them. Consider offering a discount or other promotion to encourage people to scan.

Work it!

Before printing your code on anything, be sure to test it on as many different apps as you can to make sure it works. This is especially important if you’re using a customized quick response code with graphics, a logo or different colours in it, although even plain black and white codes produce errors on occasion. Continually track your code campaign to determine how successful it is and make adjustments accordingly.

If you’ve had any experience using QR codes please do let us know all about it in the comments section below.


By Chris Jenkin .  Chris Jenkin is a CEO for Gotcha! Mobile Solutions, Inc. He writes/blogs during his free or spare time. Writing about Mobile Marketing and QR Code Technology. You can visit Gotcha!’s blog for more informative articles relating to Mobile Marketing.

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