QR code tracking and analytics
QR code basics
The two dimensional QR codes have been around since 1994 and offer a graphical way to place information into an image, the QR code is a two-dimensional code (matrix barcode) that is readable to specific devices.
A Smartphone with a QR reader active can process the image and translate it back to the original text. The process is that the Smartphone camera captures the QR code image and then translates it into the content that was encoded in the image.
The image to the right is the QR code for the home page of this website, if you have an QR app enabled Smartphone check it out.
A security aware person would at this point, if not earlier, start to consider the risks with using QR codes. As the image does not in any way convey what the content it contains, QR codes are as dangerous as any redirect service which will send you blindly onwards.
Point and click
To use a QR code one simply needs to start the QR reader app and point the camera of the Smartphone to the QR code.
The app will chime when it has completed the scanning of the QR code and take action appropriately, typically by opening the embedded URL.
As seen in the images to the left, the app scans the image and once the URL has been decoded the website URL is requested and the website is loaded into view.
Since this seems to be the default action by most QR readers, securing the Smartphone is really a "smart" thing to do. In the app "Scan" by QR code city this is easily done (go: History | Settings) by the flick of a switch.
It is important to notice that the security measure by visualizing the URL to which the QR code points is minimal security, being able to read the URL doesn't ensure 100% that no threat lies behind.
URLs might be very long reducing readability as well as contain redirect information that the website in question will react to. Despite that it's still a smart thing to do, and the effort is minimal.
This option lets you decide on the next step instead of being swept away to malware and other plagues of the Internet. Since apps can't validate dangerous URLs any Smartphone used to read QR codes can be at risk if blindly pointed.
To highlight just how easy it is to wind up in the wrong place, if your QR reader app doesn't have at least minimal security by visualizing the URL, check out the QR code in red (no danger, just a little heads up picture will load).
Notice the URL shortener that pops up (you did secure your app didn't you?); it uses the URL shortener service of QR Stuff that provides a QR code online builder.
Despite being able to read the URL you still have no clue where it will lead you off to!
Any use of a URL shortener to point to your designated landing page should be avoided, QR code has the ability to store 4296 alphanumeric characters which is more than enough to store a URL (max 2048 characters is the web server limit for a GET request).
Now let's get to the purpose of this article...
QR code analytics for ROI analysis
The evident need to track the use of the QR codes can be done with any web analytics solution that can report on use of landing pages. That is however very very limited, by including parameter data tailored QR codes can when included in direct mailing or even exposure on a TV set provide a wealth of information.
As any QR code pointing to a website with an URL including detailed information embedded in the parameters will leave a unique marker in the data collected, this is a marketing measurement method that has yet to be tapped into.
Tracking can essentially be done with two mechanisms, either using a redirect page to get data imprint, or the smarter way by embedding parameters in the URL in order to enable advanced data capture and analytics. Only a low tech web analytics tool prohibits use of the smarter way, additionally we all remember the days of marketing domains just for the sake of getting a unique URL imprint for a given campaign...
Tracking can be done in an app, but then that requires the use of an app from which the tracking is sent to you which isn't very likely to happen. The "less data chatter in a Smartphone the better" is the maxim!
QR codes brings the capability to far better track offline exposure (and ROI) of content in print, billboards, or even on TV screens. With some careful planning, getting the most out of the tracking will result in rich data available to analyze in web analytics tools.
Think QR codes in TV shows for user interaction, in ads where a viewer can select to get more information about a product. See the light? It's clear that marketers haven't got the point yet as is the case in Japan and South Korea, but that is likely to change as soon as the knowledge sinks in and better measurability of the marketing spend kicks in.
The use of QR codes teleports web analytics into a far wider arena as it does enable the analysis of visitor interaction from offline to online!
* The picture(s) in the article are manipulated to fit the page format.