Friday, March 1, 2013

QR code optimization

I was at the Barrett-Jackson event in Scottsdale, the car auction, at the end of January.  One of the things that I noticed is that each car had its own QR code taped to the passenger headlight.  The concept seemed great, but as I watched, I noticed many people struggling to scan the code only to give up and walk away.

Here is one of the actual QR codes from the event:
The URL for this code is: http://www.barrett-jackson.com/application/onlinesubmission/mobilelotdetails.aspx?ln=1313&aid=466&utm_source=Sticker&utm_medium=QR&utm_campaign=SD13-Car-Tent-Codes

You will note that their analytics team (smartly) had them use utm parameters to track which codes from which tents were being scanned.  The issue is that this only makes a long url longer.

QR codes are a black and white representation of data.  Data is stored in computers as 0's and 1's, so it is only logical that you can translate those 0's and 1's into black and white.  What most people don't know is that the more information a QR code contains, the more tiny dots it will have.

If you are trying to get people to take a photo with a phone in a shaky hand inside a dimly lit room of a 1 inch QR code with a ton of tiny dots, chances are, even the ones who want to scan it, won't be able to.

The solution seems simple: use a shorter url.  Shorter urls = less dots = easier to scan.

The same url but shortened with goo.gl (Google's link shortener) makes the following QR code.
http://goo.gl/qlkLR

I continue to see more and more QR codes with far to much data.  If you are going to use a QR code or already do, try to make the link as short as possible first.

Another good tip is to include the shortened url below the QR code.  This lets people who don't have a QR reader or phone handy take note of the url to look it up later.

Are your QR codes hard to scan?