QR Codes

What is a QR Code?

A quick-response code (QR code) is a type of barcode that contains data for a locator, an identifier, and web tracking. QR codes have been around for a long time. They were first created in the 1990s by a Japanese car manufacturer for labeling auto parts. (Wikipedia, October 2023) After an explosion in use, they fell off and have been making a comeback in the last couple of years. UMC began using QR codes again in Fall 2021 as a fast way to get to a website from print material and found that they were fairly well used.

QR codes are primarily used on print material such as posters and brochures where the user isn’t able to click. They should never be put on webpages or in emails, where the user is already online and can click. In those cases, you should use a hyperlink instead. We are seeing a new trend were QR codes may be included in video messages (typically at the end) to allow the user to more easily browse to the website, webpage, or product page being featured within the video. Some users are unfamiliar with how to use a QR code or may not have their phone handy, so it is good practice to still include a URL on the printed material or video as well.

Types of QR Codes

QR codes can be static or dynamic. The key difference is whether or not you can change where the QR code goes after it has been used in production.

Static QR Codes

Static QR codes cannot be edited once they are made and are not trackable in themselves. If you try to recreate a static QR code for the same URL it will always be different. Tracking capability can be added using UTM codes, a URL shortening service such as bit.ly or tinyurl that provide usage data, or an in-house tracking system connected to an analytics platform such as Google Analytics. Static QR codes are simple, free to make, and work well when you are confident that you will not need to change the location that the code points to for the duration of its use.

Dynamic QR Codes

Dynamic QR codes allow you to change the destination website and are typically trackable through the service providing the code. Services providing dynamic codes usually require a paid subscription and may limit the number of times the URL can be changed or how often the code can be scanned. These third-party vendors need to have their own privacy policy and maintain security compliance. When considering a vendor, you should weigh their longevity, how quickly and seamlessly their redirect technology works, and if they add in any unwanted behavior such as showing third-party ads during the redirect process.

Creating QR Codes

UMC does not create QR codes for other departments. QR codes can be created directly in InDesign. There are also websites that will create QR codes for you. You enter the URL and then download the generated QR code image. These sites offer different services at different costs, so it is important to read about the service before using it. Watch for a limit to the number of free scans allowed. Some services will allow a small number of free scans and then require you to provide credit card information that they will charge for additional scans or the QR code will stop working. UMC has been using QR Code Generator for static QR codes with unlimited scans.

If you want to add UTM tracking to the link within your QR code, you can use Google’s Campaign URL Builder to streamline the process. It is helpful to map out ahead of time the different types of QR code campaigns that you will be running throughout the semester, so you can formulate a tagging strategy that is scalable and will make sense to you down the road as you review the data.

Tips for Using QR Codes

Always use QR codes strategically.

  • Be sure to provide some form of tracking and follow up on the data to ensure the codes you are making are useful.
  • Be mindful of the size and contrast of the code so that phones can detect them easily.
  • Do not put multiple codes on a single page to avoid scanning issues.
  • If you are using QR codes in a physical public space, remember that they are hackable, by which a bad actor could place their own QR code on top of yours and trick the public into scanning it. Create and execute a schedule for making sure any QR codes within your managed space are not tampered with.

User Instructions Examples

Depending on the usage and placement of the QR code, additional instructions could be helpful for users. On a flyer or brochure that the user can read on their own time, they are probably not needed. However, in a situation where there is a time restriction, such as accessing a program for an event, they can help the user and make them more comfortable. The Rozsa Center found that instructions, such as the following text, placed directly next to the QR code on signage were effective.

To learn more, scan the QR code to visit [website].

How to Scan

  1. Point the camera at the QR code.
  2. Open your smartphone camera.
  3. Click the pop-up link that appears.

When space for the full instructions is limited wording such as, “Point your phone’s camera at the QR code. Click the link that appears.” can also work.