Tom’s Simple SEO: How to Use QR Codes for Marketing

You see QR codes (or “quick response”) codes all over the place. It seems that people stick them to anything: billboards, their website, e-mail newsletters, and so on. So how do you actually use QR codes in your marketing material, do it correctly, and measure the response?


Bar codes are absolutely everywhere. They’re on our mail (for the zip code). They’re on the patient bracelet they put on you in the hospital. They’re on products we buy at the store in the form of UPC codes. Bar codes were invented in the late 1940s and patented in 1952. The problem with them is that they are linear – the more data you need to put in your bar code, the longer they get. So past a few characters of data, they get too long and unwieldy to use efficiently.

Version 40 QR CodeQR codes were invented in 1994 as a way of having data stored in a square area that could be read on the automobile assembly line. They were used to track parts and cars as they moved down the line at Toyota in Japan. The original QR codes were simpler, and could only store small amounts of data. However, the format has evolved to include more data, to the Version 40 QR code which can store nearly 4300 alphanumeric characters. The data can be encrypted and include error correction, so even if the QR code is damaged or missing part of it, it will still work.

Marketing with QR Codes

Most of the applications that we see where QR codes have been employed, redirect people to a website or webpage to do something. But the bar codes can actually do lots of other things, including sending an SMS or text message, make a phone call, etc.

They key to using QR codes however, is to use them strategically to get the action you want from your potential customer. Think about it from their perspective and don’t do things that will prevent them from engaging you in some way. For instance, you never want to do these things:

  • Don’t post your QR codes on trucks, vehicles, or billboards. It encourages dangerous behavior of people trying to scan your code while driving. Even if they manage to scan it without running into someone or something, you don’t want them to further put themselves in danger by asking them to fill out a form!
  • Don’t post the QR code in an e-mail or on your website. If the person is looking at your e-mail or website on their smart device, they can’t scan it and take action! If I’m at my computer, I’m sure not going to whip out my cell phone to scan a code on a webpage either. Just give me the form you want me to fill out.
  • Don’t use them to send to the website home page or a Flash page. Neither will give the potential customer something to interact with. The Flash page won’t even work on any Apple mobile device.
  • Don’t send them to an unrelated page, promising one thing, but dumping them on some other unrelated content hoping they’ll buy your stuff.

Measure Your QR Code Scans

One of the toughest things about using offline marketing is how to measure it. How many people did something? Is your offline marketing working? With a little extra step, you can actually measure how many people scanned your QR code, and which ones in the “wild” are working, like brochures, flyers, etc.

Assuming you have Google Analytics installed on your website (and you should!), you can tag your links in the QR code so that you can track exactly which marketing tools are working.

  1. Go to the Google URL Builder
  2. Enter the landing page that you want to tag
  3. Enter the three fields: Campaign Source, Medium and Name
    • Set Source = qrcode
    • Set Medium = flyer, or brochure, or poster, or banner (or whatever)
    • Set Name = july2013 or whatever marketing campaign name you want to set it to
  4. Click “Submit” and copy/paste that URL into your favorite QR code generator

Use the unique URL to generate a unique QR code for each medium (flyer, banner, etc.), and then every time someone scans your code, you’ll see the results in your Google Analytics “Campaigns” section. This way you can measure how well your marketing campaigns are.

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Tell us in the comments how you’ve implemented QR codes.