What's Wrong with those Black & White squares - QR Codes

The Canadian Tire QR Code and Mobile Website Experience

These black & white squares or QR "Quick Response" code seem to be popping up everywhere, and just when you go to use them what happens? Unfortunately more often than not what happens is something that gets in the way of what these little guys were designed for - getting information easily and quickly to smartphone users!

QR Codes Execution Leaves Much to be Desired

Take for example a QR Code in a Canadian Tire store (for those that don't know this is a chain store across Canada that most Canadians have grown up with and hold in pretty high esteem) with the call to action "Tell Us How We're Doing" - a great way to collect information on customer service and even specific employees as part of the consumer experience - BUT what happens? First, instead of going to a form to place the consumer experience the QR Code lands on a "choose your language" menu. Could this choice not have been preselected - stores in a predominantly English speaking area landing on an English form with French as a toggleable alternative, and vice-versa? So then if this inbetween step does not lose some visitors due to inconsistent expectations, when a language is chosen … instead of the expected form what pops up? A request to enter the store number! … to add insult to injury, really slap the customer that has made it this far, and it gets even worse since there's no indication anywhere on the piece of paper what the store's number is and for that matter anywhere in the store that's clearly evident to customers, at least this one.

So instead of feeling good about answering Canadian Tire's call to action to take my time and give feedback, the customer feels frustrated, pissed off and unsatisfied … not good for encouraging spending. Imagine the reactions of non-techy types that don't doggedly pursue most technology failures hoping that there really is a rainbow under all that doggy doodoo!

Closeup Agency Canadian Tire Qr Code

Getting it Right with a Mobile Website

All is not lost however with the Canadian Tire experience! Taking some of the heat off the Canadian Tire QR code fail is that their landing page is mobile optimized - big kudos to them! The QR technology seems to be so new to implementers that many don't realize that while it takes a smartphone to scan the code, where the code ends up should have content formatted for the same device that got the viewer there in the first place. Obvious fails include having the scanned code land on a desktop pc formatted website that either can't be easily viewed on a mobile device, has Flash that doesn't show on many mobile devices, with navigation that doesn't work well on mobile devices and/or has forms or fields that just can't be filled out on mobile devices. Essentially if you have your QR code take visitors to other than a mobile website or mobile optimized form, the time and money spent has been wasted.

What does it take to make a website mobile friendly? Easy answer - an understanding of what makes a mobile site user friendly and experience in the technologies that can make it happen. Alternatives include the following:

#1 - Dedicated Mobile Website: A good start especially if written in html5 and with user agents that read what device is being used to access the site with formatting specially for that device, but can easily run afoul of duplicate content penalties if content is copied from the desktop based site.

#2 - Mobile Friendly Website Architecture: This alternative essentially serves the same content (hence no copy penalties) to desktop PCs as well as mobile devices but specifically formatted depending upon the device calling the content.

#3 - Mobile Optimized Landing Pages/Functionality: Offering something less than a full site, the landing page could be a mobile optimized form, video download, or other smartphone embedded functionality such as SMS sending, Facebook Like, contact information and more.

What's the Next Hurdle/Opportunity - Mobile SEO

Google announced earlier this year that it has a dedicated mobilebot for indexing Mobile Friendly Websites - as distinct from its regular indexing bots and those for images and videos. We already see images and videos indexed in Google's search results, so the next logical step is to see mobile websites given preference in search results requested from mobile devices. So what does this mean for website owners? Basically, go mobile or lose out on a major competitive advantage to your competition!

Now let's put this revaluation in perspective. "Mobile" according to Google includes the new tablet form factor - mobile yet with screen sizes & resolutions rivaling laptops. Also in the cards is understood to be a larger iPhone. And finally, as we've seen repeated many times before with PC's, laptops and now smartphones, memory and processor capabilities are scaling rapidly to the point where a reasonable expectation is that the smartphone will become the 1 device around which all other devices center - for instance, watching sports or playing a video game will no longer require a dedicated tv or console … rather the smartphone will simply plug in or communicate with larger screens and act as controllers for the same end-user experience as we have now.

So back to the question of what's wrong with those black & white squares … which in reality is really a question of who will be the first to get the equation right - QR Code to Mobile Website that's search engine optimized so it can be found, indexed and served up as a competitive advantage. So there's opportunity in those who really get QR Codes - understand what they do, the supporting environment to make them shine and the underlying components to make sure the full puzzle comes to together.