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QR Codes 101 by Aliza Sherman

QR Codes 101


o you’re looking to start using QR codes as a marketing tool but aren’t sure where to begin. This handbook should get you started thinking about, creating and leveraging QR codes for your business or any project where you’d like to communicate with others via smartphones. I’ll share some ways companies and individuals are using QR codes to give you some ideas on what works and what doesn’t and why. I’ll also provide quick ways you can start using QR codes today along with some resources to get you moving forward. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at

Want to scan the code below? You can download a free QR Code Reader from one of these links: iPhone or or or Android or or Blackberry or Note that every QR code scanner may have different sensitivities. If you have trouble with one, there are others you can download for free.

definition QR Code: A 2-dimensional bar code – a Quick Response code – that represents data such as a URL, email address, telephone number or other information that can be scanned and read using an application on a smartphone.

QR Codes 101 My First Code The first time I saw QR codes, I had no idea what it was, but I was intrigued. I was trying frozen yogurt for the first time (froyo, for the uninitiated) and saw a poster in the yogurt shop’s window that suggested scanning a code for a free dessert.

The Apple App Store logo tipped me off that I could use my iPhone to do something, so I followed the instructions and downloaded - an app with a QR code scanner or reader – and I scanned the code. A coupon appeared on my iPhone that I showed to the guy behind the froyo counter, and in turn, I was given a free yogurt treat. I was delighted!

From the retail establishment’s point of view, the QR code was an interesting new way to bring customers into their store and provide incentive for them to sample a product. The code generated curiosity and provided instant gratification. Created and utilized in thoughtful ways, QR codes can be powerful tools or “real-world hyperlinks” as Hamilton Chan, CEO of Paperlinks, likes to say. His company offers custom QR codes, printing with QR codes, and QR code mobile destination sites. You’ll find out more about Paperlinks later in this handbook.

QR Codes 101 Why QR Codes? While QR codes were invented by Toyota to easily scan and track inventory, their open and public use has prented new ways anyone can leverage these codes. So many of us are adopting smartphones and are getting more and more comfortable using apps on their phones to perform tasks. We are also carrying our smartphones with us everywhere. If your goal is to reach people, and you are looking for fresh ways to do this, tapping into the smartphone as a new communications channel could be effective for you. Keep in mind, if the people you are trying to reach – your customers, constituents, target audience – are not using smartphones, QR codes are dead ends. But if they are, you can provide information and prompt actions straight to someone’s smartphone if they take the time to scan your code.

There are many ways to use QR codes, and we’ve all just begun to scratch the surface. At a minimum, you could:

• Point to your website or another page on the web. • Prompt someone to “like” your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter. • Prompt someone to take a quiz, poll or survey. • Prompt someone to fill in an application to request something. • Prompt someone to donate to a cause. • Launch and play a video or audio file. • Launch the App Store and lead someone to the page for your mobile app. You could put QR codes on: 1. print advertising (magazine, newspaper, newsletter) 2. on marketing collateral (business cards, stationary, postcards, brochures) 3. signage, banners, table tents. 4. product packaging 5. attire, accessories, promotional items

These are very basic uses of QR codes but a good place to start.

definition QR Code Reader: An application, usually free, that you can download to your smartphone to scan and interpret QR codes. The scanned code can trigger an action such as leading to a website, playing a video, or prompting someone to contact you or your company.

QR Codes 101 QR Code Pointers Yes, those QR codes sound cool, but here are a few things you need to keep in mind before you start using them.

1. Use a Mobile-Ready Destination

If you are sending people to a website, make sure it is mobile-ready. That means when someone lands on the site using their smartphone that the site is configured for mobile devices.

Test out your site right now. View it through your smartphone’s web browser, and see if you can read what appears on your screen. If you have to squint or pinch and expand or even move the page around with your finger to see all of the content, that means your site isn’t ready for mobile devices. Here is an old version of one of my websites that was hosted on and what it looked like through my iPhone:

QR Codes 101


ere is an old version of one of my blogs that was hosted on and what it looked like through my iPhone. Note how the mobile version below on the right is difficult to read and nothing more than a tinier version of the web page.

Many website and blog hosting platforms such as Wordpress and Blogger have mobile-ready versions that can be set up as a default with “auto-detect” meaning that the web server hosting your site will detect if the person accessing it is on a computer or smartphone. If on a smartphone, their mobile browser will be pointed to the mobile version of the site.

You can also create mobile versions of your sites through a variety of tools, free or fee-based, or hire a web development firm familiar with mobile sites to create the mobile version of your website. The key is to work with a tool, platform or company that is reputable and where the end product – your mobile-ready site – is easy to access and navigate. Don’t be duped by fly-by-night companies that will try to bilk you of a lot of money and create an inferior product. Some popular solutions for mobile sites include Mobify and Outerwoven, or as mentioned above, you can configure your Wordpress or Blogger sites or blogs to auto-detect mobile devices and serve up the mobile-ready version of your site.

QR Codes 101 2. Trigger Measurable Actions Using a QR code to send someone to your website’s home page doesn’t make a lot of sense if you aren’t tracking what they do next. You cannot expect someone to poke around multiple pages on a website and do something meaningful, especially while they’re on a smartphone. Think of how you can use a QR code to trigger an action that you can measure and track.

Again, make sure the destination of your QR Code is mobile friendly. So if you are sending them to a poll or survey, you could use a survey tool such as Zoomerang ( which offers a mobile version of its surveys ( If your destination is a video, use YouTube to host your video. The YouTube site is mobile friendly so when you view a link to a YouTube video on your iPhone, your YouTube video app launches which makes for a better viewing experience. On the flip side, if you link someone to a web page that has video embedded on it, it might take someone a few extra steps to actually play the video, especially if the destination page is not mobile-ready. Therefore, it is better to link to a video URL versus a regular website with a video on it.

scan Scan this code to see an example of viewing a video on a website. (This is on the website for the publisher of my latest book. The code leads to a web page on a site that is not mobile-ready so it might take some fiddling around to play it.)

scan Now scan this code. It leads directly to a video hosted on YouTube. It should move immediately to a mobile-friendlier version of the video ready to be played. FYI: Below is the link that is represented by this QR Code:

QR Codes 101 Making a QR Code Here are some of ways to get a QR code. And remember: It is not just about the code but about the destination. It is also a good idea to use a URL shortener to create a less dense and complicated QR code that is easier to scan, even at smaller sizes.

This is a really easy way of obtaining a QR code to a URL. Just copy and paste your URL into ( then add .qr to the end of the, and hit Return. You’ll then see the QR code that corresponds with the that leads to the longer URL. Check out this QR code generated by


I really love Paperlinks ( because they let you create a mobile destination for your Paperlink-generated QR codes, and those destinations are modular so you can switch out sections, content and images at will. The potential downside of creating a QR code out of a URL or any destination is if you cannot modify that destination page easily, then your code becomes stale. You cannot modify a QR code once it is generated, meaning it will always go where you initially wanted it to go. With Paperlinks, the QR code stays the same, but you have control over some basic parts of where that code lands including links to your Facebook Page and Twitter account, a photo gallery and video, a coupon, additional links and even a custom header and introductory text that can be changed anytime.

To the right is an example of a Paperlink aka QR Code. If you scan the code, you will arrive at a Paperlinks modular mobile destination. (You can use any QR code reader, not just the Paperlinks iPhone app). If you click on this link – - you can view the same site though a web browser although you will see it is clearly designed for a smaller format i.e. a smartphone screen.

QR Codes 101 Making a QR Code Here are some other QR code generators, each offering different features and options. There are many other sites and companies offering services for QR codes. If you use others, I’d love to know about them (aliza@

Google URL Shortener

Like, Google provides a URL shortener and a corresponding QR code for the link. Just click on the “details” link after you’ve generated your short URL to access your QR code.

QR Code and 2D Code Generator

This non-commercial code generator converts a URL to a QR code. You can adjust size, output (PNG, EPS, PDF, TIFF), and modify foreground and background colors.


This generator lets you convert a URL, text, phone number or SMS message into a QR code and you can select the size.

You can really see how complex a QR code can become the more information you add to be converted. Here you can convert text, URLs, vCards, SMS and a phone number.

( Paste a URL to get a QR code generated from a shortened URL. Or make a QR code for a message, a Contact vCard or an address and map.


In addition to creating codes for some of the same content as the above, this one also offers event information.


This company provides fee-based mobile marketing services include mobile destinations with a variety of content components including coupons, mobile commerce and CRM.

QR Codes 101 Designer QR Codes You don’t have to be confined by black and white codes, but if you go for the beautiful code, make sure you use a developer who understands what parts of the code are active.

QR Codes 101 What Else? There are many other things to know about QR codes so stay tuned to for upcoming ebooks on the topic that are more advanced and detailed. If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to email ( or call 903-224-5683.

If you’d like to share this handbook with others – something I wholeheartedly encourage – please provide them with this link so they can also sign up for my weekly tips: And to get your creative juices flowing, here are a few more examples of QR codes in use.

Product Tag


Business Card

QR Codes 101 Storefront Window

Product Packaging

Wine Coaster

Wine Coaster

Profile for Aliza Sherman

QR Code Handbook  

The basics of QR codes and how to use them well.

QR Code Handbook  

The basics of QR codes and how to use them well.