Using QR codes? 5 essentials for making your site mobile-friendly

Getting people to scan the code is one thing; keeping them on your site with easy, engaging features is quite another.

There are several things that need to happen for QR code to become an effective tool in the mobile experience. Of course people have to understand what a QR is and how to scan codes. A reliable barcode reader needs to reside on their device, and the user needs to be comfortable using the technology.

Most important—in my opinion—the scan needs to bring the user to mobile-friendly content that adds value to the experience. Merely providing a code to scan, without accounting for context or content, is a disservice to the mobile user and to the QR concept as a whole.

The campaigns presented thus far in the United States concentrate just on getting people to scan codes. Compelling, useful content seems to be secondary right now. Too many codes bring the user to sites which are virtually (or entirely!) unusable on their device.

Most content-rich, computer-centric websites are full of large images, widgets, and Flash ads. Pages like this are easy to load and render on a computer with a high-speed connection but will probably load poorly on most mobile devices. Phones typically have smaller screens, slower connections, and browsers that are incapable of handling all the bells and whistles of a full-blown website.

We have to start thinking about making mobile-friendly websites to enable QR codes. If you are thinking about using these for your business, here are some design considerations for the QR-mobile interface:

1. Page size: I make every effort to keep the page size for mobile versions of my websites to 200k or less, which accommodates most of the devices and carrier plans I have tested.

2. Image size: This applies to both visual and file size considerations. You want your images to be small enough files to enable the smaller page sizes. You also need to have a good idea of screen sizes. Most smartphones can accommodate a width of around 300 pixels, but several models will need pictures to be around 175 pixels. You can create conditions in your code to change the size of the image depending on the device, or have multiple versions of the image to accommodate the different devices.

3. The essential content: One trap that a lot of website owners and content providers fall into is the idea that the entire website should be on both the main and mobile versions. In many cases this can’t be done; in most cases it shouldn’t be done!

The mobile user has different needs for information and content from those of the computer user. He/she is on the go, with not a lot of time to spend waiting for content to download and wading through irrelevant information, whereas the computer user sitting at home or in the cafe probably has more tolerance for this type of content and experience. As you design each page, ask yourself: “Is this content essential and relevant to the mobile user experience?”

4. Navigation considerations: Typing on mobile phones is cumbersome, and typos are a fact of life. Limit the user’s need to type into data fields on a mobile webpage. If you are collecting bio info, a form requiring that information is a bad idea. A better solution: Ask for the e-mail address. With that information, you can communicate with your users to get more information at another time, or when they are at a computer with access to the full-form version.

5. Experiment and be flexible: We are at the dawn of QR Codes and smartphone technology. Keep an open mind, and continually absorb best practices as they become available. Experiment with different methods and presentations. We are very early in our exploration of the mobile Web user experience, and the opportunities to make discoveries and innovations are available to all of us.

Did I miss anything? What problems and challenges are you having with your mobile experience?

This article originally ran on Grow.

New York-based Jonathan Thaler is the founder of When I’m Mobile, a company dedicated to helping clients push the boundaries of the mobile experience and performance.

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