QR CodeI was sitting in a conference hall and everyone around me had a smartphone, tablet (often with a keyboard) or laptop out.

The title on a sponsors flyer on the table caught my attention. I really did want to look them up at the break and learn more. But when I looked closer, my only option was a QR code. To use it, I needed to set my laptop aside, pull out my phone, scan the URL, and then use a tiny screen. When my laptop was open and ready for more comfortable viewing.

Marketers, stop it! Yes, QR codes can offer a convenient alternative to URLs or contact information, but stop making these QR code mistakes.

1. Make Scanning Urgent

Stopping what you are doing in order to pull out your phone and scan a code creates a poor user experience. Particularly when someone has immediate access to a laptop or tablet and can quickly type a URL.

QR codes in TV ads that briefly flash and disappear or on billboards that you zoom past? Would you really drop everything to scan the code before its gone? I didn’t think so.

2. Don’t Provide an Alternative

In marketing, QR codes should be an alternative to typing a URL, they should never be the only option.

In the conference example above, the QR code was a barrier, not an improvement. And I never did get around to looking up that company.

3. Don’t Say Where It Will Go

Anything could be on the other side of that QR code. A video. A lead gen form. A website. Even a FB page!

Tell me where I’m going. If I don’t have headphones or have a poor connection, I don’t want your video. I probably don’t want your white paper. A QR code without a related call to action that tells you what to expect from scanning is like a link in a dubious email that sneaked past your spam filter: you really don’t know where it will actually take you.

4. Use QR Codes Where There Isn’t Reception

QR codes as a shortcut to a URL are pretty worthless when there isn’t an internet connection. But that hasn’t stopped marketers from using them underground in subway stations and in in-flight magazines.

On a recent flight I counted a dozen ads with QR codes in the in-flight magazine. And most of them broke #3 as well. Yikes.

5. Using a QR Code Online

Thankfully, this isn’t nearly as common as it once was, but if someone has a web browser open, a simple link is best.

One of the most egregious examples of this was on the Massachusetts Department of Revenue site a couple years ago. In a promotion carousel, there was a QR code to learn more about a certain tax situation. When you scanned it (yes, I did, I was so floored by the execution), you went to a page with a flash video providing more information.

6. Don’t Use Mobile Pages

Nearly everyone that scans a QR code will be using a mobile device of some sort, the landing page you direct them to must be optimized for mobile. This is a clear instance where mobile-first design is absolutely critical and expected.

Your Turn

What mistakes do you see marketers make with QR codes? Share your favorites in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).