QR Codes: Are You Ready For Paper-Based Hyperlinks?

Mark Sprague on
  • Categories: Channel: SEO, Features: General, Link Building: General
  • You’ve probably seen them in newspapers, magazines or other paper-based publications: two-dimensional bar codes, called quick response codes (QR codes). What are they? They have been described as paper-based hyperlinks, and this is a good description. You simply take a picture of a QR code with your smart phone, and you get redirected to a website using your cell phone’s browser. They can also be used digitally—you can append a QR code to a Tweet, or they can be displayed on a web page to transfer contact information directly to a cell phone, for example. This technology is blurring the distinction between smart phones, digital destination and content, and paper-based communication mediums.

    QR technology provides cell phone users the ability to scan paper-based content using the cell phone’s camera to decode information on a menu, a magazine, a business card, a gift card, a coupon or a website. Once the QR code has been scanned and decoded, the user has access via their cell phone to the information or destinations that can be any or all of the following:

    This unadorned code can be visually modified to a certain extent. For example, a number of agencies are providing custom QR codes for businesses that incorporate their logo or an image. These custom codes are referred to as Design QR Codes.

    In the case of the first code the image (heart) lays on top of a number of the QR code cells, thus obscuring some of the information. However this is not a problem because the information is recreated using robust error correction code technology. In the second code, the individual cells are not obscured by the Lufthansa image, and the decoder can actually read all the cells. In this case the error correction algorithm is treating the logo as if it was a smudge, and correctly decodes the information.

    What can you do with QR codes?

    What are the possibilities? Well, let’s take a look at where consumers are finding QR codes. They show up in magazine ads, maps, food packaging, posters, leaflets, business cards, emails, websites and on the sides of buses. With these vehicles in mind, the current technology could be used in the following manner:

    Examples of how a few companies are using QR Codes

    Mainstream retailers, manufactures, media publishers, non-profits and restaurants are experimenting with QR Codes. For example;

    QR code generators

    If you wish to experiment with QR codes there are plenty of sites where you can generate codes for free in just seconds—here are a few good ones.

    Download QR Code Readers

    As well, there are many sources for free QR Code Readers for your smart phone.

    QR codes in the marketplace

    The rest of this article highlights selected examples of companies using QR codes in advertisement, offers and content.

    Design QR codes

    The QR Code below incorporates the Adidas name and logo, while the second code with the number 9 was developed for the firm 9, and appeared on movie posters.

    QR codes in advertisements

    The Pepsi ad cleverly uses the QR code as an integral part of the visual display.

    Calvin Klein ad

    This giant QR Code on a billboard allows consumers to view a short video advertisement.

    Print-based to digital transfer

    A printed card offering access to digital content.

    Facebook QR code

    Scanning this code takes you to a company’s Facebook fan page.

    Dell contest

    Dell uses QR Codes to provide information about how consumers can win a new laptop.


    QR Codes are not in widespread use in the US yet, but all the technology parts are in place and ready to be exploited. The platform is mature, it’s an ISO standard, and is being effectively used by companies and consumers in Europe and Asia. Major US internet-based companies, and well known retailers are embracing the technology—and early adaptors (consumers) are experimenting with them. QR Codes are cool, and are perceived to be cutting edge—even though they have been around since 1994.

    QR Codes are so easy to use, and are so versatile that they provide instant value to individuals and companies alike. This technology will increasingly play an enabling role in future mobile strategy for product sales, information access and promotional programs.

    The idea of digitally connecting consumers of your paper-based content to the internet is a powerful concept. They’re coming, are you ready?

    About The Author

    Mark Sprague