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Static QR Codes vs. Dynamic QR Codes | The Difference

November 10, 2020
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Scott
Table of Contents
QR Code Menu

In 1994, famed QR code inventor Masahiro Hara created a two-dimensional barcode that virtually all phones today can scan. That means every person walking around has the ability to scan a QR code. The reach and convenience they provide businesses is unparalleled.

They’re also uniquely positioned to help the hospitality industry rebound and help dining rooms reopen safely. By embracing touchless menus, bars, restaurants, and hotels not only make their businesses safer, but they signal to guests that they’re on the cutting edge of restaurant cleanliness.

But before you run out and create your QR codes, learn more about QR codes. Like, just what is a QR code? Because there are two types of QR codes, dynamic QR codes and static QR codes. And you’ve gotta get it right, because the implications of using one over the other are big.

What Is a Static QR Code?

A static QR code is a QR code with fixed information. The information a static QR code delivers upon being scanned is encoded directly in the QR code itself. QR codes are made up of scannable patterns of white and black blocks, all aligned in various ways. The information in a static QR code is contained within this pattern and alignment. The more (and more complex) information communicated through the static QR code, the larger and more complex the QR code is. This has implications for how small a QR code can be. Though, more often than not, the information encoded in static QR codes is a URL. Most folks want to go from URL to QR code.

And if that information (again, a URL typically) needs to change, the pattern and alignment of the QR code needs to change. Which makes any previously printed QR code obsolete. With static QR codes, more information means a bigger code, and new or updated information means a new or updated QR code.

What Are Static QR Codes Used for?

A QR code with fixed information may sound inconvenient. In the right circumstances, it could even be a disaster. But there are numerous use cases for a QR code that can’t be overwritten:

  • One-time-use codes that needn’t be changed. The information itself becomes obsolete because the use case is temporary. There’s no need to edit or update the code. A one-off PR event or marketing campaign is a great example. So is a holiday prix fixe menu or a table d’hote menu for a special event.
  • Information that shouldn’t be changed. Encoded data like employee numbers, access codes, or other sensitive information. That said, a dynamic QR code can be just as secure as a static QR code while still allowing for flexibility in the future. But, in some instances, it may feel more secure to entirely remove the option of editing the information associated with the code.
  • Personal information. Personal information tends to be relatively simple and the medium the QR is presented isn’t revisited over and over. Think of an email signature or a paper resume. People aren’t typically re-reading your old emails or resumes. It’s also not necessary to track usage metrics on QR codes with personal information . That’s something dynamic QR codes can do and static QR codes cannot.

Do Static QR Codes Expire?

No, static QR codes do not expire. The only way a static QR code becomes unscannable is if something physically disrupts the pattern and alignment of the code itself. Information in a static QR code is hard-coded into the QR code’s matrix of black and white squares. That’s all a static QR code can do. It can’t track scans or other usage metrics, so it wouldn’t know when to expire even if you wanted it to.

How Do I Generate a Static QR Code?

Fundamentally, generating a static QR code is as easy as uploading whatever information you want to encode in it, then clicking a button. There are numerous options for doing this online. Keep in mind before you generate a static QR code, though, that it has limited functionality. And it’s entirely unable to be future-proofed.

Any typo, correction, misstep, or update means you need a brand new code. If you’ve already distributed your QR code, that can be a catastrophe. If you’re using a free static QR code PDF generator online, you’ll get no support if something like that goes wrong. You also open yourself up to a QR code security risk. That's why we put together some resources around finding the best QR code generator.

In the vast majority of cases, a dynamic QR code is a better option.

QR Code Menu in Restaurants

What Is a Dynamic QR Code?

A dynamic QR code is a QR code with a short redirection URL encoded in it. The information you’re trying to communicate isn’t encoded in the QR code itself, like a static QR code. Instead, the information you’re trying to communicate is on a website, and a dynamic QR code redirects to that website. The best part? That redirection URL can change. Unlike a static QR code, the information in a dynamic QR code can change without needing a new code. When evaluating a QR code vs barcode, this is one of the biggest draws.

What Are Dynamic QR Codes Used for?

  • Website menu bar codes in bars, restaurants, and hotels are an ideal use case for dynamic QR codes. The content on menus change constantly, especially if you’re menu engineering to drive sales. To account for the kaleidoscope of menu items, descriptions, and prices, the ability to assign a single QR code to an ever-changing list is a huge value. This doesn’t apply only to types of restaurant menus, but to spa menus, poolside menus, local activity recommendations, and more. Any menu that’s going to change almost demands being digitized with a dynamic QR code.
  • Track QR code usage and scanning metrics. If you use a dynamic QR code, you can capture where, when, and with what device a code was scanned. The implications for this in marketing campaigns is enormous. Especially for bars and restaurants. The QR code templates and QR code marketing strategy you use can be compared against scanning data. Based on the usage metrics, you can tweak any number of things to increase conversion. Primary among them, where you place QR codes and what your QR code template says. For example, you may find that the QR codes you have placed near “How to Scan a QR Code” visuals get more engagement.
  • Personalized content delivery. We’ve seen how a dynamic QR code can change the URL it redirects to. We’ve also seen how it can track things like time, location, and device. This can all work together. By gathering information about a scan, the QR code can surface relevant information to the person scanning. A good example in hospitality is the same QR code bringing a customer to the lunch menu during the afternoon and the dinner menu during the evening.
  • QR code nutritional information and food uses. Using QR codes on food packaging is an effective way to initiate conversations about what drives a lot of consumer behavior today: values. They can provide engaging, rich content around nutrition, sourcing, sustainability, and social responsibility.
  • Touchless ordering and contactless payments. Any QR code that supports advanced functionality like mobile ordering and contactless payments is a dynamic QR code. The information needed to facilitate features like this is far too complicated to store in a static QR code. It would, instead, be stored and executed elsewhere and the QR code would redirect to it.

That's not all, though. There are more QR code uses than what's listed above.

Do Dynamic QR Codes Expire?

Dynamic QR codes can expire, but it’s entirely up to the business using the QR code when and how. Technically, a QR code doesn’t “expire.” Like static QR codes, they’re just a matrix of squares that contain information. But because dynamic QR codes can be made to redirect to any new information at chosen times, they can effectively expire. That would just mean that, after a predetermined number of scans, period of time, or end date, the QR code would redirect elsewhere. Away from a seasonal menu, for example. This is not inherent behavior in QR codes; it’s something that would have to be explicitly set up. Most of the time, though, when people are unable to scan a QR code, it's not because of expiration.

Many QR code companies out there leverage this aspect of dynamic QR codes by counting the number of times a code is scanned and charging clients by number of scans. After a set amount of scans, the bar or restaurant either incurs overage charges or the QR code redirects to a page that’s not the original destination. Our digital menu product doesn’t do that. Every bar, restaurant, and hotel that powers their QR code with SproutQR gets unlimited menu items and unlimited scans for one flat fee.

For more information about the technical aspects of QR codes, check out our How Do QR Codes Work? post.

How to Make a Dynamic QR Code

The best way to make a dynamic QR code is by using a dynamic QR code generator, also known as a dynamic QR code creator. In theory, the act of generating a dynamic QR code isn’t much different than generating a static QR code. How to make your own QR code is remarkably consistent. You upload the information you want associated with the QR code and click a button. But there are a few things to consider before generating your own dynamic QR code.

First, while creating the two types of QR codes are similar, using and updating them aren’t. If you’re going to widely distribute dynamic QR codes whose usage have major business implications, it’s best to partner with a company that has expertise. And the dynamic QR code generator software to back it up.

Second, you’ll have to think about formatting. With dynamic QR codes, you’ll redirect to a website. That means you’ll need to format, publish, edit, and update the website. That can take a lot of technical know-how. You’ll need to be familiar with content management systems and website construction. But a company that specializes in creating and maintaining QR codes may offer a pre-formatted product that takes your raw information and makes it look pretty.

That’s especially important for bars, restaurants, and hotels with their digital menus. Being able to upload a plain old spreadsheet into a QR code menu tool and spit out a nice, shiny dynamic QR code that links to a published menu that’s branded and formatted is ideal. It's more hygienic than a single use menu (see single use menu definition), and it's much less expensive and work-intensive than a menu app built from the ground up.

Difference Between Static and Dynamic QR Codes

Dynamic QR Code Static QR Code
Size Small, lightweight Large, dense
Editing Ability Can edit and update Cannot edit and update
Usage Metrics Can track usage and scan data Cannot track usage and scan data
Ideal Use Cases Menus, hospitality, marketing, business, government Personal use, one-time use

The conversation about static vs. dynamic QR codes is less one of preference and pros and cons and more one of technological progress. The first QR codes were static QR codes. QR code technology has since evolved into a much more forgiving, flexible product. It’s the dynamic QR code, and it’s the better option in virtually every situation. Any QR code test will show that.

Dynamic QR codes are smaller because all the information isn’t encoded in the QR code itself. The only thing encoded is a redirect URL. That means the QR code can be smaller, simpler, and less dense. Dynamic QR codes also have the ability to be updated and track usage data. That makes them ideal for most business and marketing operations—hospitality being one of the most glaringly obvious candidates that benefit from their usage.

Dynamic QR Codes or Static QR Codes?

QR codes are finally assuming their rightful role in a world that newly values contactless commerce. Just look at the QR code statistics. And the short, simple answer is that if you’re a business, use dynamic QR codes. If you’re using QR codes for personal reasons, you can use static QR codes.

There is no downside to using a dynamic QR code if you’re doing it for personal or one-time use. In fact, there is a benefit. You leave yourself the option of editing or updating the content associated with your QR code down the line.

There is, however, a massive downside to using a static QR code if you’re a business. First, your business will be boxed in to the first version you publish. Second, your business won’t be able to fix mistakes or update anything. And finally, you’ll be in the dark about how successful your QR codes are because you’ll have no data about their scanning or usage.

Making sure to choose dynamic QR codes is especially important for hospitality businesses. Having the ability to associate one QR code with an evolving menu is an enormous convenience. It’s one of the easiest, least expensive, and most impactful pieces of restaurant technology out there.