QR Code – How To Use QR Codes

You may have seen these recently in various places, you may have heard people talking about them in the realm of mobile and wondered what the heck they are.  Quick response codes (known as “QR” codes) are a very convenient way to display a small bit of information that is easily scanned and processed typically by mobile devices. Allowing physical items to almost become interactive, by providing information that is easily scanned like a website URL.

To make a simpler analogy, most people are familiar with Universal Product codes (known as UPC codes).  Everything you buy at the grocery store (and almost any store these days) has one of those that the cashier will scan.  The computer then immediately knows what the product is based on the code that it picked up.

Does anyone remember the days of grocery shopping and the cashier had to punch in the prices and codes for every single item you purchased.  They had to memorize most of these in their head and if they forgot?  They had to pickup the loud phone, make an announcement in the store asking for someone in that department to help them out.

Think of QR codes as UPC codes but instead they’re used in a much broader spectrum, not just to ‘identify’ products but to convey ‘information’ of some kind.

Basic QR Code Usage

The most basic (and popular use) of QR codes is to display website information (a website address).   Lets say you’re at a trade show and you’re walking by my booth.  You want to find out more information about my company, so you open up your phone and start fumbling away trying to type in some long URL (that is on my display) into your browser, and off you go.

The other option would be for me to display a QR code (on my display), you take your phone and scan it just like cashiers scan items at the grocery store, and your phone automatically starts loading my website, how is that for convenience?

What about billboards outside on the street, or bus shelters while waiting for public transportation.  You can place these little codes anywhere.  People with free scanners on their phones (iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids, Nokia, etc.) can quickly scan the QR code and find out more information, like opening up a website.


QR Codes Example


Whole Foods Market (popular in the US/Canada) uses these in their stores.  I was recently sitting down to have a bite to eat at the one in Yorkville Toronto, and on the table where I was sitting was a table tent with two QR codes.

It was obvious where they would take me if I scanned them, one would take me to their twitter account, the other would take me to their facebook page.

If I was interested in checking out their twitter or facebook page, rather than opening up each respective app and going to the search function and typing in their name etc. (I likely wouldn’t, too much effort) I could pick up my phone, scan the QR code and automatically open each page!

You can find a lot of examples of QR codes online, here are a few more:

Airline Boarding Pass

This is an interesting one because you use your mobile to display the QR code rather than scan it.  :)  

In this case, the airline sends you a QR code that you display on the screen of your phone.  This allows the airline while at the airport to scan your unique QR code which represents your passenger information (your digital boarding pass).

Wine Bottles

A lot of vineyards are placing QR codes on their bottle labels.  When you’re out and try a bottle you like, you want to find out more information, or browsing in a wine shop, you may want more information.  So rather than writing a long URL out (which most people aren’t going to go type in for lack of convenience), you can scan the bottle just like the cashier will.  The only difference is your QR code scan is to give you more information on the wine/vineyard (sales stuff), and the UPC scan is to identify the item in stock and figure out how much of your money to take.

These QR codes are all over the place in Asia, and they’re becoming more and more common in Europe and North America.   Just walk around and you’ll start noticing these things.

Just the other day while doing a keynote presentation at a local college on social media, there was a big banner up for birth control, HUGE banner.  At the bottom of the banner was a ….. you guessed it, QR code:

qr code exampleAnyone with a QR scanner on their phone could quickly scan that QR code at the bottom and be on their website in a second or two.

What They’re NOT For

I’ve seen people put QR codes on their website and quite frankly that just defeats the purpose and nobody will ever scan it.  The point is to take people from the physical world to the online world.  If someone is already browsing your website, facebook page, twitter, some online ‘property’, they’re already there.  If I’m on my phone, I can exactly scan my screen of my phone with my phones camera now can I?

QR Code Generation

Creating your own QR code could not be any easier.  There are countless websites online that allow you to easily generate a QR code image.  You take the image they give you and print it on whatever you want, place it wherever you want, it’s a ‘label’ so to speak.   Here is one to get you started:

QR Content

Though typically QR codes identify URLs you can essentially represent any piece of information you like, here are some examples:

  • Website URL
  • Send a text message
  • Send an email message
  • Address Book record (vcard)
  • Display some text on your screen
  • Any bit of text you like

What determines the success of what you put there is how it’s read and consumed.  So that means the scanner has to know what to do with the ‘text’ it reveals after scanning the QR code.   So almost every scanner I’m aware of knows what a url is and will open it for you.  Most will allow you to ‘start’ a text message (it will not create/send one for you).  But when get into more complicated (not as popular) usage, they won’t always work.

I have an app on my iPhone that does not  handle address book entries, while the other one does.   So even though you can represent many things with a QR code, it’s ultimately up to the scanner to understand what to do with the text and that is why the URL is the most popular, as it’s the most widely used and supported by all QR code scanners.

Got an iPhone?  Try these free scanners (just two I’ve tried)

  • “Scanner”
  • Bakodo

Have you tried any yourself on your mobile?  Do you have any recommended scanner apps for iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry (any phone for that matter)?  Please post in the comments below, let us know some good apps for other devices, or maybe you’ve found better iPhone apps then the two I’ve used.

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  1. Dave says:

    Hey Kevin,

    Good information about QR codes.

    It is also a good idea to send QR code visitors through a redirect – at the very least through bitly, better through a redirect that you can edit.



  2. Kevin says:

    Good point Dave!

    I think a combination of a redirect (that you can edit) along with using the Google URL builder you should be able to get some great information on which ones are getting the most attention and what devices people are using.

  3. DeJuan says:

    Thanks Kevin for explaining QR codes.

  4. Kevin says:

    You’re welcome. I know there is a lot of information online about it, but a thought a quick simplified demo would be helpful.

  5. Narendra says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I don’t agree with your “What They’re NOT For”. You can put on your website so that people will know all of your other properties like twitter, Fa(r)cebook at one place along with your support email address etc. Once they scan this using their phone they can store in their smart phone as vcard or against a contact.

    See my http://www.sharepointsidekick.com site QR code here on the homepage for example. When you scan, it will show all my online properties of that website like twitter, youtube, facebook at one place. Ultimately they can store in their smart phone for future use.

    QR code is a bridge between not only physical to online world, it should see as online to mobile and online to online world as well.


  6. Kevin says:

    Hi Narendra, thanks for contributing, and pointing out another angle, I appreciate you taking the time.

    I’m still going to stick with my stance on it not being very useful on a website.

    I am sitting in front of my computer right now. If I land on your website, I’ll follow your twitter account or facebook links and if I’m interested I’ll ‘follow’ or like. When I use my iPhone (facebook or twitter) your info is now there, no need to scan, or store anything on my phone. It’s much easier to do it on a desktop.

    If was a completely mobile person, and found your website on my phone, I can’t use the QR code anyway.

    I scanned your code and the page it took me to is a landing page, which is a great idea, but I just don’t think anyone sitting in front of a computer already at your website is going to scan it, there is no real value add here. People aren’t struggling to get information from a website onto their phone, the struggle has been connecting the offline (static) world with online digital world, very quickly and easily.

    I don’t need help on my mobile to see you have twitter, or facebook, or youtube, it’s all on your website (which I’m looking at). I don’t save that in my ‘address’ book, nobody really does. If I want that information, I ‘follow’ on twitter or ‘like’ on facebook etc. not a vcard.

    The whole implementation of vcards isn’t great either, every vendor, phone and application handles them a little differently. I can’t even import your information by clicking the link on my iPhone, it doesn’t work.

    Maybe on other devices it would be different, but that’s what happens on an iPhone.

    I believe something like that fits for a business card, flyer, brochure, something where I’m not already on your online property and you can easily connect someone on a mobile to all your other properties.

    I’d venture to say not too many people will scan that QR code. :-) But again, this is all just my opinion.

  7. Eug says:

    Great explanation Kev, thanks for making it easy :)

  8. Evelyn says:

    Great article Kevin, thank you! I have found that not all QR generating software works in Canada. One that does is jumpscan.com. Any idea why not all will work in Canada?

  9. Kevin says:

    Thanks Evelyn!

    When you say they don’t work in Canada, I’m not quite sure what that means, could you be more specific? What happens to make it ‘not work’

  10. Although I agree with most of what you say I do disagree with the point that you would not want to put a QR code on a web site.

    I integrated QR codes on my site using my http://www.smallqr.com/magic service with the original intention of showing them only when the page is printed out. Once I had done this I realised as I have the screen real estate then when do I not show it anyway. It makes it easy to load up what is on the screen on your phone or tablet.

    Granted far from a top priority, but I certainly would not discourage it.

  11. Andy Peers says:


    My recent need for a QR code on a website… Dog groomer!

    BFD, right?  Right!  Short story…  I’m looking for a groomer on my pc.  I find a groomer.  I want the address and phone number… Address for the navigation in my car, phone number just in case nav decides not to work.  

    As I was texting myself the information from the site I thought, this sucks… If the groomer had QR code on the site I would have scanned the code and been on my way… no scrap paper, no attempt to read my own handwriting, no fooling with texting, etc.  Not only would I have the info, I would have the info stored.  

    So, knowing that some people need contact info to go, I decided to replace my personal photo on my website with a QR code.  This was especially hard because I am a realtor.  Realtors are supposed to love photos of themselves!

    Great article.  Scan and call if you ever want to buy or sell DC region real estate.

    Kind regards,


    P.s. Groomer called an hour after dropping off my dog (Ringo) to tell me he was too hard to handle and to come pick him up!  

  12. Kevin says:

    Hey Andy thanks for the comment!

    Although that sounds good in theory, in practice, the likelyhood that your QR scanner will magically make the proper address book entry is slim. There is no ‘standard’ for what these scanners do with the information and how it’s stored etc. I know several iPhone apps that dont’ handle address book information nice and clean and thats true for Android, and BB too.

    So in that one instance, sure I see a purpose, but for the majority, it’s not just as simple as scan and away you go.

    btw – I can’t scan your QR code on your website, it’s too small on my 15″ MacBook.


  13. Renaud says:

    What about apps to display the my own QR codes..?
    I have my own QRcode (vcard) and I want to quickly display it for sharing to a contact smartphone who will scan it
    an idea?


  14. Kevin says:

    No need for an ‘app’. Your QR code is simply an image. Save it to your phone as you would save any ‘picture’ and then you can just display the picture on the screen like you would any other picture. Someone with a QR scanner can now scan your QR code.

  15. Keith says:

    I totally agree putting QR codes on a website or in an email is kind of silly. They are to connect the real world with the virtual world.

    A really nice way to do this is by branding the QR Code with your company colors and even an embedded logo or picture. This can all easily be done on websites with QR code Generator tools like on http://www.QuickResponseQRCodes.com

  16. Tim Ho says:

    Great article and very informative.
    I have also written one more focused on how marketers can make better use of QR Code.
    Hope it helps!

  17. kalpesh says:

    Interesting site to create your Tag .

    Name , Email Id , Address , Web url .

    check out getmytag.com

  18. Gabriel says:

    Hi kevin. Very informative video. Just a quick question. Can I set up my QR code to take my clients to the app store and download my application? Thank you

  19. Terence says:

    Interesting review. I think QR Codes are becoming very popular in web, and it is very easy to add QR Code to the website using http://www.pageqrcode.com or similar online service

  20. acane says:

    Great article and very helpful. The QR codes are easy to do with a software.
    Thanks Kevin

  21. Thanks a lot for the article. I am writing an article from here for my odesk buyer.

  22. Michael_H says:

    Nice article but I do disagree with you contension that QR Codes should not be displayed on web pages. I use them on web pages for two reasons, 1) So people can scan them from desktop and finish reading on the move. 2) so that users of mobile device in the same location can share web pages by scan from one anothers device.

    A good example would have been if you had a QR code on your site, I could have scanned it when you site refuse to accept comments from behind my works proxy server.

    And as an aside your site behaves badly for pinch zoom on my galaxy 2, to the point where it crashed.

    Keep the articles coming


  23. I have a QR code for my blog app and my board game shop app.. but sadly i have not found any significant use for either one! Still, its very pretty.

  24. Tony says:

    Not an IT geek, just a plain old man, but I did find your advice great and now I have a QR Reader and I know how it works and why. Thanx.

  25. Sreejesh says:

    Great article, it helps many. I have also have a post to share its about scanning RQ code from PC http://techgyo.com/index.php/qr-code-scan-computer-pc/#

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  30. Rick Madden says:

    I initially agreed with your point about putting QRs on websites, but then I thought about having one for my contact details page where someone could scan and save my business card to their phone. Check it out… http://www.rickmadden.com/contact-2/

    I’ll post back with some stats on what % of visitors actually start to use it.

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