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PART THREE: QR CODES

QR code-making tips to keep in mind Add to ...

If QR codes are ubiquitous, one would be forgiven for wondering where they’re all coming from. The answer, chiefly, is free online generators.

But making a successful QR code isn’t quite as simple as plugging a hyperlink into a website. Here are some QR code-making tips to keep in mind:

Creating codes

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Making QR codes is easy – a quick Google search will yield a number of websites that will generate them automatically, and free of charge.

Brian Dunseith, a partner at Discotoast, a Toronto-based web-design consultancy, recommends QRStuff.com, a site that offers both free and premium services. Many free generators will deliver a free QR code in PNG format, but Mr. Dunseith prefers QRStuff’s option of having the file rendered as a vector-based EPS file.

In most instances, the information stored in a QR code is a URL: a web address that people who scan the code will be directed to. (In some cases, such as business cards, QR codes can also encode contact information, usually in a vCard or meCard format.)

Hyperlinks can be lengthy these days, especially if you’re linking to a specific page on your site.

Indeed, detailed information is exactly what a QR code should link to, since a link to a generic destination, like a homepage, is a waste of users’ time.

To fit long URLs into tight spaces, QR code marketers can use the same trick that Twitter users do, and pass their links through a URL-shortening service like bitly before encoding them in QR code format.

This can make a URL string manageable – but it also puts your codes at the mercy of the shortening service. Should its business go kaput, your codes will cease to function.

Not all QR codes are created equal

Even though QR codes all look the same at a glance, they actually come in distinct varieties, each of which encapsulates a different amount of data. The more data a QR code contains, the more little squares it needs to encode it, and the result is a finer-grained, higher-resolution image.

These range from a “Version 1” QR code, which contains a 21 x 21 array of squares and encodes just 25 characters, to a “Version 40,” which is 177 x 177 squares, and stores as many as 4,296 characters.

However, just because a standard exists in the lab doesn’t mean it’s ready for the real world. The more tiny little blocks there are, the harder it gets for smart phone cameras to read them.

That’s why, as a rule of thumb, it’s best to use as low-resolution a QR code as is practical.

QRStuff.com recommends going no higher than a “Version 4,” with 33 blocks to a side, storing 114 characters for use with smart phones.

Not all QR scanners are created equal, either

As rapidly as they’re improving, smart phone cameras have not been known for their optical excellence. Smart phones purchased as recently as a couple of years ago routinely deliver fuzzy, smudgy dark images. This affects their ability to see and scan QR codes.

Toronto realtor George O’Neill puts QR codes on his lawn signs, using them to link interested viewers to detailed property information and even video tours. His experience has taught him to make sure that the codes he uses are visible to the broadest swath of viewers, with smart phones old and new.

“If you don’t make your QR code big enough, the camera can’t scan it,” he says.

Testing is another important pre-launch check for a QR code marketing campaign. Make sure that the label can be read by a variety of phone platforms, using a variety of scanning apps (they’re not all of the same quality), under a variety of lighting conditions, and in the real-world conditions that the code will be scanned. (A QR code on a bottle, for instance, will distort the code somewhat.)

Don’t be afraid to play with colour and design

All that said, QR codes’ robustness leave a surprising amount of room to play.

“They’re incredibly tolerant things, in terms of how well they work,” says Nigel Brachi, who handles marketing and communication at the University of Alberta’s Students Union, which uses QR codes on posters and flyers to pique students’ interest in events.

One QR code property that Mr. Brachi has harnessed is the ability to free them from their garish black-and-white confines.

A conference he was working to promote had a bright visual identity that consisted of overlapping red, orange and blue circles. His team was able to use that same palette for the QR code with no ill effects.

You can even work in images and symbols: The black-and-white QR code for the university’s “Week of Welcome” event had a pixilated “WOW” in the centre. (Generators like QRStuff.com can assist in the production of custom designs.)

The series continues next Monday.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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