QR Codes – Cutting Edge Technology Demystified

Originally designed for use in tracking vehicles during assembly, two-dimensional bar codes (also called QR codes, matrix barcodes, or scanlife codes) have come into their own for unique marketing uses and more.

The most popular variant is the QR code, with its distinctive three boxed corners. QR codes make a lot of sense where:

  • Users can be expected to have smartphones
  • While the user will start with content in place, they will complete the interaction on their phone
  • The user has a code scanning app, or can quickly download a recommended version

Technical Capabilities

Realistically speaking, current technical limitations on QR codes are due mostly to reader apps. While becoming more and more popular, few readers have completely integrated all of them with the different phone platforms. For example, the GPS coordinates format is not well supported at this point. A link to a Google map, instead, eliminates the risk of failing on many different phone/scanner combinations. It’s also wise to steer clear of non-QR codes at this point, which include Data Matrix, Aztec Codes, Scanlife codes and Micro QR codes. QR codes are easily the most popular and best supported to date.

Current Usage of QR Codes

QR codes are seeing a creative explosion of applications. Some of the most direct uses include:

  • Contact information encoded into a QR code printed on a business card
  • Printed QR codes on brochures or data sheets pointing to a webpage with more information on a product or service
  • The newest applications – scan-to-text, scan-to-call, encoding wifi connection info, GPS and more

One attribute that is not mentioned often is the impression that a QR code gives of the company. Do you want to be seen as an early adopter of new marketing technology?

How to Create Your Own QR Codes for a Website Destination

1. Get your destination website address (www.mygreatwebsite.com)

2. Tag it using the Google Analytics Tracking code builder so that the traffic can be tracked once it gets to your website.

3. Shorten your tracked URL using a shortening service like goo.gl. There’s a Chrome plugin for goo.gl that shortens the URL AND can create a QR code for you at the same time. HANDY!

4. Now build the QR code using the above mentioned Google Chrome plugin or an online service like http://zxing.appspot.com/generator/

Shortening the URL first makes the QR code simpler and can be read in a smaller format or at a longer distance. Here’s an example of 3 codes with regular, tracked, and shortened URL’s. Note the comparative complexity of the QR codes.


QR Codes Gone Wrong

Since it’s an emerging industry, QR code usage has seen some very poor implementations. In general, don’t put QR codes:

  • On the outside of moving buses (but inside the bus is fine)
  • On huge billboards near highways (am I supposed to scan it while driving??)
  • In tiny formats on printed materials (too difficult to scan)
  • On t-shirts (wrinkles and curves make them difficult to scan)

Some other don’ts for QR codes include:

  • Linking to a mobile unfriendly website or huge form
  • Linking to a flash website (few mobile devices fully support flash)
  • Linking to your company’s homepage (I can just as easily type it into Google)
  • Link it to your website without including Google Analytics tracking code. Otherwise, the traffic will show up to your website under the “direct” source and it will be difficult to attribute exact impact of the QR code or of traffic from the QR code on different mediums (brochure vs business card vs datasheet).

Want to test out your QR code scanner app?

Try some of the QR codes below and let me know what you think!


  • I’m going to write a follow up post on reader apps but if you are looking for one now, I’d recommend:
    iPhone: QRafter
    Android: Barcode Scanner

    • Anonymous

      Google Goggles can also read them AFAIK.

      Good post!

      • I was hoping that Google Goggles would be awesome, but it didn’t support integration with nearly as many QR codes as Barcode Scanner. I’ve even got a draft post on a breakdown of feature support for various QR code scanners in Android. Stay tuned for that post!

  • Finally a comprehensive breakdown on QR codes and dos and don’ts. Nice read Adriel!

  • Sarah

    Thanks for this post Adriel – I’ve wondered about these little boxes of code! Because I have a Blackberry it took me a minute to figure out how to scan the codes – but it totally worked. Awesome.

  • Christine

    Hello Adriel,

    We’ve came across a critical issue in my company: we created a QR code that we put on a banner, tested it, and had it printed out. The banner comes in, we test the QR code again: it leads to a new website, that isn’t ours!!!! #FAIL big time.

    We don’t understand what happened. Is there a way to recup the ownership of our lost QR code… now that it’s on a banner?

    May thanks for your insights!

    • Hi Christine,

      The URL is actually encoded into the QR code, so there isn’t an easy way to modify them to point to a different URL without completely changing the code? Was the URL going through a redirecting site like Scanlife or some other tracking software? Maybe the URL expired and it was assigned to someone else?