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QR Code Tracking: How to Track QR Code Usage & Scans

September 8, 2020
|
Scott
Digital menu QR code demo

Imagine taking a road trip without a map—a physical map or GPS. You couldn’t ever course-correct. You’d probably end up a long way off. And you wouldn’t know until it was too late.

Rolling out a QR code marketing campaign without QR code tracking is like that. Mistakes aren’t fixed because nobody knows they’re mistakes. Opportunities aren’t seized because nobody recognizes them.

But QR code tracking establishes a baseline for the performance of your QR codes. Then you can track QR code usage and make changes based on that frame of reference. Doing this again and again is known as iterative marketing. You iterate on your campaign until you get the results you want. 99% of successful marketing campaigns do this. 

If you track QR code usage and react to it, you’ll be doing it too. Here’s how QR code tracking works, what it tracks, and how you can set it up.

How Does QR Code Tracking Work?

It may help to take a peek at what QR codes are in the first place. There are two types of QR codes: static and dynamic QR codes. Only one is able to track QR code usage.

Static QR Codes: Cannot Track QR Code Usage

When you learn how to make a QR code, you’re learning how to change a string of characters (text, a URL, etc.) into an arrangement of black and white squares (data modules). That's what encoding information into a QR code is. Then a QR code scanner makes sense of the data modules and retrieves the original information.

Static QR codes encode that information directly into the QR code. The more information you encode in a static QR code, the bigger and more complex the QR code is. And because the information is encoded directly in the static QR code’s data modules, it can’t be changed. Any change to the information requires a brand new QR code with a brand new arrangement of data modules.

These relatively inflexible static QR codes cannot be used for QR code tracking.

Dynamic QR Codes: Can Track QR Code Usage

Dynamic QR codes are far more flexible than static QR codes. That’s because the content isn’t encoded directly in it. Instead, the only thing encoded in a dynamic QR code is a short redirect URL. That redirect URL sends people to another URL with your content on it. It’s what makes dynamic QR codes editable after they're created. You can change your content and the redirection URL in the QR code remains the same.

This setup is also why dynamic QR codes can be used for QR code tracking.

What Can QR Codes Track?

With a dynamic QR code, everyone that scans your QR code is quickly redirected through a website that tracks usage. Google Analytics, as we'll see, can also do this. Though, even if you use Google Analytics for tracking, you should opt for a dynamic QR code because they're editable.

Here’s what QR codes can track:

  • Total scans. This is the total amount of times the QR code was scanned, including multiple scans by the same person. In practice, let’s consider a restaurant. A QR code menu is placed in multiple locations. On a QR code template near the front door, on QR codes on table tents, and in tabletop displayettes. If one gets far more scans than the other, the business knows what QR code placement is optimal.
  • Unique Scans. Unique scans is the number of individual users that have scanned a QR code. If one person scans your QR code once, and another person scans your QR code 10 times, it’d be two unique scans. Unique scans is a good way to gauge the overall visibility and penetration of your QR code.
  • Device, browser, and operating system. QR code tracking can also pick up a scanning device and its browser and operating system. QR code tracking can show you the brand, like Apple or Samsung, and the model, like iPhone 10 or Galaxy Note 5. A browser is the program you use to access websites: Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc. And an operating system is the software that computers and smartphones run on. Windows, Android, and iOS are all operating systems. Gathering this technical information is useful for curating more technical marketing experiences. If you know what tools your customers use, you can optimize content delivery for them.
  • Location. QR code tracking can also record the scanner’s IP address, which provides location information. Typically this includes country, but can get as granular as state, region, and city. Obviously, this type of tracking is more useful for global campaigns or campaigns launched purely online with no geographic restrictions.
  • Time. The scan time of day is also logged when you track QR code usage. Back to the restaurant example, a business may find that most scans of the QR code menu on their website occur between 4–6 p.m. That may be a sign to offer a special from 5–7 p.m. and put it front-and-center in your QR code menu.

Some of those raw QR code tracking metrics can even be combined. Total scans per day, for example. Or unique scans in a certain location.

How to Track QR Code Scans

There are two ways to track QR code scans. The first is to pay for the privilege. The second is to do it yourself.

Pay for QR Code Tracking

Often, you don’t need to learn how to track QR code scans. Setting up QR code tracking is as easy as asking for it. Some online QR code generators offer QR code tracking for a fee. The free ones often don’t, and we don’t recommend using free services anyway because of the QR code security risks. If you have, or are about to start, a relationship with a QR code tech company, ask them about their QR code tracking options. 

Whatever their solution, it’s unique to them. Which is why the only way to figure out your tracking options is to get in touch with the company.

QR Code Tracking with Google Analytics

You can also learn how to track QR code scans yourself using Google Analytics, which is a free web analytics tool provided by Google.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Sign up for a free Google Analytics account for the website you want to track.
  2. Visit Google’s Campaign URL Builder tool and create a custom URL with trackable parameters. 
  3. Create a QR code using the URL built from Google’s Campaign URL Builder.

Let’s look a little further into step 2, since that’s likely what people are least familiar with. 

Here’s what Google’s Campaign URL Builder looks like:

How to track QR code scans with Google Analytics
Google's Campaign URL Builder blank


Let’s continue with the restaurant QR code menu example. We want to create a URL with this tool and then transform that from URL to QR code. The reason we create the URL with the Campaign URL Builder is because it appends trackable parameters onto the URL that Google Analytics recognizes. 

We’ll first input the URL we want anyone scanning our QR code to see in the “Website URL” field. That’s the URL where our menu is published.

Then we’ll add a Campaign Source, Campaign Medium, and Campaign Name. 

  • Campaign Source: Where your traffic is coming from
  • Campaign Medium: What kind of source the traffic is coming from
  • Campaign Name: A campaign description

It could end up looking like this:

Tracking QR code scans with Campaign URL Builder
Google's Campaign URL Builder filled out


The scans come from QR codes (source), the QR codes are on table tents (medium), and the content itself is the dinner menu (campaign name). By generating this URL, we fix these campaign parameters onto it:

https://www.menuexample.com/?utm_source=qr_code&utm_medium=table_tent&utm_campaign=dinner_menu

Google Analytics then logs user metrics every time the website is visited. And shows us those metrics for the different sources, mediums, and campaign names. 

Now imagine doing the same thing with the custom QR codes for your website, your front door, your social media, and more. If they each have their own URL from the Campaign URL Builder, you’ll be able to track them individually. And, crucially, compare their performance to the others.

Side note, if you’re not using a dynamic QR code and still want to set up Google Analytics tracking, use a URL shortener on your Campaign URL Builder URL before creating a static QR code for it. That’ll speed up scan time.

QR Code Tracking and Reporting System

A QR code tracking and reporting system is a tool that logs and visualizes all the QR code data collected. It allows you to access all the juicy data you’ve been collecting and draw the insights needed to move marketing campaign performance forward.

Your options for QR code tracking and reporting systems mirror your options for how to track QR codes in the first place. 

Your QR Code Creator

If you’re using a QR code generator or another QR code creation and tracking solution, the tracking and analytics are likely proprietary. Since they’ll vary individually, your best bet is to get in touch with your QR code provider and ask about their QR code tracking and reporting system. They’ll likely have a weekly or monthly report they can send you, or you may get access to an analytics dashboard that you can access 24/7. 

Setting Up Your Own QR Code Tracking and Reporting System

Decided to create your own QR code tracking with Google Analytics? Then you’ll use Google Analytics as your QR code tracking and reporting system. Once you’ve signed up for a Google Analytics account, linked your website to it, and created and distributed one or many URLs with their Campaign URL Builder, you’re ready to go. You can sign into your Google Analytics dashboard and see

  • Real time reports based on locations, traffic sources, and content
  • Audience-based reports covering total users, active users, devices, operating system, browser, and demographics
  • Site-focused reports focusing on user flow, time-on-page, and bounce rates

… and much, much more.

QR code menu

QR Code Tracking: How to Track QR Code Scans

Tracking the QR codes you’ve created gives you a boatload of revealing metrics that help you understand QR code scanning behavior. By having such robust and timely data (much of it in real time), you’ll be in the perfect position to react to it. That means making changes and increasing the performance of your QR codes.

The better your QR codes do, the more you’re engaging with your customers. Whether that’s simply showing them a menu or driving conversations around sustainability as many QR codes on food do.

QR code statistics show just how many businesses are taking advantage of them—and how many consumers embrace them. 2020 put inexpensive, touchless solutions at the forefront of business. It’s clear that QR codes aren’t going anywhere and the businesses that leverage their speed, hygiene, and accessibility will thrive.