QR codes are used to quickly direct users to mobile content. Generally, this occurs in print and other physical types of advertising. But what about using them online, in websites and email?
I subscribe to my fair share of email news letters. Nothing terribly exciting, new products, deals, news, and so on. Recently, while typing away at my laptop one afternoon, I received an email that contained a few deals on products, followed by a QR code I could scan that would take me to the product section of the website. A QR code in an email? Wait, what?
The company that sent me the email obviously wanted to drive traffic to their website, but putting a QR code in an email? I'm already on my laptop, a device much better suited for browsing the internet than my phone. There's no way I'm going to abandon my laptop and switch to my phone. But alternatively, if I had opened the email on my phone instead of my laptop, how the heck am I supposed to scan the QR code on my phone's screen?
When Not to Use QR Codes on the Web
Using these codes online isn't what the QR concept was intended for. QR codes are not replacements for links, either on websites or in emails.
Had the email I mentioned earlier used a link instead of a QR code, I would've been able to use it to navigate to their products page from both my laptop and my phone. Using the QR code I wasn't able to do either. As a general rule, its usually not a good idea to use a QR code on an electronic format.
When It Might Actually Be a Good Idea to Use QR Codes On the Web, Maybe
I before E, except after C or when sounded as A, as in neighbor or weigh. (and sometimes on Tuesdays.) Just like with English, there are some exceptions and they only apply to specific scenarios.
Using QR codes online makes sense in some limited instances. Think for a moment about the purpose QR codes serve. They make it easier for people to enter information on their mobile devices. The only time QR codes should even be considered online are for interactions in which people are likely to stop consuming information from desktop/laptop and switch to their mobile device.
For businesses, a website footer needs to have all your contact information (email, physical address, phone number). A small, unobtrusive QR code wouldn't be out of place here. Give it a call to action so that users will know they can call you by scanning the QR code to dial your phone number.
Maps & Directions
Another great place for QR codes is on the location page of a website. Imagine you're on vacation with the kids and you want to take them mini-golfing. So you pull out your laptop in your hotel room and find a website for a mini-golf course in town. On the location page you see a QR code with a call to action that tells you to scan it to get directions on your mobile device. You grab your phone and scan it, and right away it pulls up navigation directions. You didn't have to print a map, write down directions, or drive around lost in an unfamiliar city. Cool.
Mobile Optimized Content
Finally, QR codes online can be a good tool to provide users with mobile optimized content. Before a recent fishing trip, I visited the Minnesota DNR website to check out the fishing regulations. Their website provides a link to a 92 page PDF. What am I going to do, print out ninety-two pages and keep them in the boat with me? Like the kiddies say in cards, go fish! This would be a great place for an online QR code in addition to the standard download link. If you know users are going to want to take information with them wherever they go, give them a QR code that will let them download a mobile optimized PDF.
Generally, its inappropriate to use QR codes online, however there are exceptions for when users want to stop consuming content on a computer and instead interact with their mobile devices.
What are your thoughts? When is and isn't it appropriate to use QR codes online. Let me know in the comments below.