Introduction to QR codes

How and why to use QR codes to bridge the online and offline worlds

What are QR codes?

QR codes (or Quick Response codes) are two-dimensional codes that you can scan with a smartphone. The code contains information, usually a site address, and once you scan it, the code connects you with a resource on the web.

Why use QR codes?

QR codes are a tool used to connect web resources with physical places or processes, but they may not be right in every context. Before using this tool, ask yourself: why do I need a QR code?

It’s important to know that there can be security issues with QR codes. Cybercriminals can tamper with QR codes, replacing them altogether with QR code stickers or interfering with the link that’s embedded in the code. The FBI published guidance in 2022 that details steps you can take to keep yourself safe. If possible, it may be wise to consider using alternatives listed later in this article.

If you have assessed your situation and choose to use a QR code to bridge the online and offline worlds, here are a few examples of them used in ideal ways:

  • Public health information. A poster with flu information in a bus stop can have a code that can lead to a website with additional information.
  • Instructions for use. A piece of equipment can have a QR code that can bring up a reference manual or how-to video.
  • Supplemental learning. Museums or historic sites can use QR codes on waysides to connect visitors with videos to enhance their visit.

Encourage your audience to use safety protocols and good judgement when using QR codes, including verifying links and avoiding downloads via QR code. Learn about more QR code safe practices with FBI’s 2022 guidance for QR codes.

Alternatives to consider

Although a QR code is a flexible tool for bridging the online and offline worlds, there are some other use cases where another technology would be more appropriate. For example, consider using another tool if you are using the QR code primarily as a:

  • URL shortener. If using a QR Code to point to a web page, keep in mind the size of the QR code is directly proportional to the length of the URL it points to. This can become an issue if the generated QR code image becomes too large for use in printed materials. In that case, consider using a URL shortener.
  • Click tracker. Creating a QR code allows you to track how many people have used it. But if you are going to use it solely for that purpose, it may not be the tool you need. Instead, consider using an analytics tool. Want to learn how? Take a look at DAP Learning Series: Creating Your Own Campaign URL Builder.

QR code generators

A black and white quick response or QR code, on a square background of medium blue from the GSA color pallette. When scanned, it will give the user a link to visit the homepage.

This QR code was generated by right-clicking on the homepage.

If you’ve determined that a QR code is the best tool to meet your needs, here are a few options for how to create one.

  • Right-click on the web page and select “Create QR code for this page.” It’s that easy!
  • Use a QR code generator. There are several enterprise softwares used by federal agencies that provide QR code support. Talk with your supervisor or agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to find out which tools they recommend.

Connect with others interested in QR codes

Want to learn more about QR codes? Join’s Web Analytics and Optimization Community, which brings together federal practitioners to make better decisions using web analytics and other optimization strategies.