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Is the age of QR Codes about to begin?

QR codes have been around for several years now, but to my shame I only really found out what they are today. In case you’re like me and have managed to miss the start of what could turn out to be a significant marketing revolution, QR (quick response) codes are kind of like barcodes that link customers from various sources directly to your website or chosen landing page. They’ve also been called paper-based hyperlinks. This is because most of the really cool applications involve placing the codes on print-based media and then directing clients to selected digital resources.

QR codes only work for cell phones that have QR reading capabilities. These days most smartphones are capable of reading QR codes. Depending on the make and model they might even come with barcode scanning, otherwise there are plenty of QR readers available for download.

To create a QR code you need a QR generator, the most popular of which is Kaywa.

Update: Kaywa requires signups and payments, so I’ve since found this cool alternative at www.toolsiseek.com, which also lets you select an ECC (error correction capability) level and size attributes for your code.

The reason I don’t feel too bad about not being up-to-date on QR code happenings is that they’re still not all that common, at least not in South Africa. They’re big in Japan (thank you Alphaville) and some European countries and are starting to become more commonplace in the US, but they are by no means the norm.

Brian Klais believes that over the next two years all that will change and by 2013 most marketing strategies will incorporate QR codes.

QR codes and SEO casualties

Klais also thinks that SEOs will have to be on their toes to ensure the prevalence of easy scanning and site access doesn’t put them out of a job.

He phrased it less dramatically.

Basically, he sees a huge impact on keyword-rich, optimised URLs.

This is because the longer the URL the bigger (physically) and more complex the code has to be and the bigger and more complex the code the longer it takes to load on phones, if it loads at all.

I’m going to quote Klais directly; otherwise I could get it wrong:

“The reason is that Quick Response code size and complexity are the product of two inputs: the number of characters in the object you want to encode (say a URL, SMS, phone number, etc), multiplied by the desired rate of error correction (essentially data-redundancy) which can be set to either 7%, 15%, 25% or a maximum 30%.

“These two factors determine how much data storage (in the form of the black pixel-like “modules”) are needed to store the object as a QR code. The principle is this: the larger the object (like a URL), the more black pixels are needed to encode the object as QR code.”

Trial and error has shown that QR codes work best when they are stamp-sized. To get this you need to really think about which keywords are important to your SEO strategy and how you want to incorporate them into you URL structure.

He doesn’t say how though, because the article is the first part in a two-part series, so we’ll have to wait for further wisdom.

Marketing opportunities

In the meantime we can look as some ways that QR codes have already been used.

  • On t-shirts.
  • In magazine ads.
  • On coupons – print and electronic: Print coupons can be scanned for use online, while electronic coupons can be scanned and redeemed in-store.
  • On business cards.

Some people have even put them on tattoos (temporary tattoos would be smarter for marketing purposes) and, tastelessly, tombstones.

QR codes can provide people with a link to your website or cater to more specific needs, such as:

  • Product details.
  • Coupon details.
  • Social media links.
  • Competition links.
  • Video links.
  • Contact details.

Are QR codes the next step in digital marketing? Has the revolution begun?

To be honest, I’m not sure. They certainly have a lot of potential, especially considering the number of creative applications and ease-of-use. Their convenience factor is also not to be sniffed at.

What do you think?

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