The Difference Between and QR Codes

Google's short url QR CodeHere are two examples using a random url from this website

Google’s shortens the url to and by appending .qr to the shortened url we can produce the QR Code on the left.

Technically this is a QR code version 3-H mask #6, encoded in BYTE.

The 3 means that it is 29 x 29 modules (matrix), the H means the error correction level is set to the highest of the four levels, mask #6 is the mask selected to even out the dark and light modules and BYTE means the encoded character set is in 8-bit bytes. These are all variable components of the specification for QR Codes.

As you would expect the QR Code decodes to the original short url

Bitly's short url QR shortens the url to (and as with Google) by appending .qr to the shortened url we can produce the QR Code on the left.

Technically this is a QR code version 2-L mask #2, encoded in BYTE.

Or 25 x 25 modules at the lowest of the error correction levels with mask #2 and encoded in 8-bit bytes.

The QR Code is dimensionally smaller in terms of modules than Google’s because it has been encoded at a lower error correction level and hence fewer modules are required.

Surprisingly the QR Code does not decode to the original short url but to the original url plus a query string

There is a very good reason why appends a query string and that is to track clicks where the referrer is a QR Code. In a account under the Analyze tab there is a Top Referrers section. Clicking the plus sign after Registered Applications will give the number of times the shortened url was used via a QR Code (example below).

Bitly analytics for a shortened url

12 thoughts on “The Difference Between and QR Codes”

  1. It seems as though most people still don’t realize that using a code means you are opening up your code to public analytics:

    Will get you the stats on your code above. So, by scanning a code, you see the shortened URL, append with .info and there you go.

    I suspect the code works in a similar way and the analytics are also public, but, haven’t tried to source them yet.

  2. Interenting differences within the QR Codes themselves!
    I’ve recently tried working with both and and I agree, I found that it was easier to track the number of referrers via the QR Codes through rather than
    Keep up the good work Roger!

  3. What reader did you use to get all the metrics on the QR codes? It would be good tool to have.


  4. Thanks for these details. I’m actually just starting using QR Codes myself, and wondering if they are widely used or not ? Should I strongly recommend my clients to place them on their posters and cards, or is it not really worth the effort ? Any stats on this ?
    Thanks. Johann

  5. Roger, how do you think and will affect services like ScanBuy which charge for qr creation and analytics? IMO- these free services marginalize what ScanBuy types services offer. Would love to know your thoughts

  6. @dan – You don’t get the analytics from a Reader, you get them from the Code generator. In the case of Goo.Gl, as above, the analytics are public, just append the URL with .info

    @johann – this is a great blog to see the growing level of activity of QR and 2D use in Europe and America. There are others as well, but, daily, this seems to show the most important information.

    @Drew – Scanbuy offer some free level services as do most generators. The paid campaigns are for deeper analytics and higher scan numbers. No real Brand or Agency wants their scan analytics to be public, and with some of the free services, like, they are public. They are for amateur use only.

  7. Marcus, I’m not talking about the hit metrics, I meant the code itself. “version 3-H mask #6, encoded in BYTE” or “version 2-L mask #2, encoded in BYTE”

    I can count the blocks and figure out what version number it is but cannot easily tell what error-correction leve it is or what mask it used.

    That’s what I was asking about.

  8. Here is an application that gives you detailed insight into the traffic events that occur once people have scanned your QR Codes.

    Not only does it show you the number of scans, it gives you realtime data like the time they spent on the landing pages, the bounce rate, the number of pages they viewed, the pages they drop out at before meeting your objectives, the number of goals achieved plus much more.

    If they they share your content on social networks, email etc, you are also able to track that traffic. In overall, it gives you a clear picture in to the effectiveness of QR Codes, and its impact on other traffic sources. For more info, see

  9. Another thing to consider is that if you use a URL shortening service that is case-insensitive (like or allows you to create custom URLs, you can create all uppercase URLS, like http://TINYURL.COM/QRSCAV – a 25 character uppercase URL can actually fit into the smaller 21×21 version 1 URL (if you can find a QR encoder that will use alphanumeric rather than byte/binary encoding)

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