Thursday, March 10, 2011

QR codes: the good, the bad and the ugly

Looking for an easy, trackable way to drive people to your website? Never fear, QR codes are here!

You don't have to be a smartphone user to notice these trendy little marks popping up on everything from magazine ads to outdoor signage. For the uninitiated, these little QR (quick response) codes are just text that can be scanned into a smartphone using one of the many available QR reader apps. The text may be a sentence, an e-mail address, or (most often) a Web page, and readers will often open the links into a Web browser.

While I'm still using a dumbphone, I'm jumping into this trend head-on for our print advertising and direct mail pieces. As much as we want people to visit our website, it makes sense to make this process easier. We have yet to know whether this is a temporary fad or the start of a lasting bridge between the print and online world, but the cost is minimal enough to make this worth a try.

Smartphones aren't necessary to generate these codes, and you don't need to pay a dime to generate codes with analytics. They are ugly, but as long as you keep some of the contrast, you can spruce up the look slightly in Photoshop. So how do you get started?
  • Set up a free account with a URL shortening service that offers QR codes and analytics. Right now, bit.ly and goo.gl both include QR code generation for all shortened links, and they also track clicks. Accounts for both of these services are free, and I wouldn't be surprised if market pressure leads similar services to follow suit in the near future.
  • Make sure your site is (at least moderately) friendly for mobile devices. If a huge portion of your website is Flash-driven, you'll want to phase that out before driving mobile users to it. Smartphone users will expect that the sites they're going to have been created just for them, so don't violate this expectation by making it incompatible with their phones.
  • Focus on function, then form. Designing around these codes can be tough. They're not inherently attractive, and they need to be at least .75" square in size to work. Test them out *every* time you use them, just like you should for a regular Web address. The more phones you can test on your first few designs, the better. Once you know the original code works, then you can experiment with color variations (then test them again).
Happy coding!

1 comment:

  1. Great post - and I would add that it is important to drive them to a page or site optimized for mobile/smartphones. I have already had my fill of QR codes taking me to a site that wasn't optimized for mobile and the experiences have been far less than pleasant.

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