Google Says No To Phone Numbers In PPC Ads, Forcing The Use Of Call Extensions

You may have missed Google’s quiet and brief announcement that starting in April, AdWords ads with phone numbers in the text will be disapproved. Advertisers who want to display phone numbers will have to use the call extensions Google Logo - Stockfeature instead.

Google states in the announcement, “We are making this change to foster a safer, more consistent user experience across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.” As others have stated, what this change really does is allow Google to charge for mobile ad engagements as part of its transition to enhanced campaigns.

With call extensions, advertisers are charged regular click fees when users click on the “Call” button in their ads. The “Call” button is only displayed on smartphones and can be seen on search, Voice search, Google Mobile App or Google Maps for Mobile. On desktops, laptops and tablets, ads appear with a phone number that is not clickable.

Here’s a look at how call extensions are handled differently on desktop and smartphone:

New PPC ReportNew PPC Report

There are obvious consequences here. Advertisers, particularly small businesses, will need to consider call extensions when setting their PPC budgets. In addition, in order for call extensions to show “your ad group will have to receive a minimum number of clicks … and a minimum number of calls to show a Google forwarding number”.

One subtly to note is if you have location extensions and call extensions enabled for the same ad, customers near your business will see the address of your business as listed in the location extension, and the clickable phone number as listed in the call extension. The implication seems to be that just one extension will show.

Curiously, as a tip, Google says, “Call extensions are best for you if you have a national service center, or if your business isn’t tied to a specific physical location.” We’re awaiting clarification on what these statements mean for local businesses. In the meantime, prepare to remove phone numbers from your text ads by April Fools Day.

Update: I heard back from Google about my questions regarding the Help Center wording on using call extensions and location extensions.

1. Apparently there is only a minimum click requirement to show call extensions if you are using the Google forwarding number. This sentence in the Help Center refers to Google forwarding numbers only: “Keep in mind that your ad group will have to receive a minimum number of clicks to be able to show call extensions, and a minimum number of calls to show a Google forwarding number.” Also note there is detailed reporting available for calls made to Google forwarding numbers, and you can now use a Google forwarding number for free.

2. You can use a call extension in a location extension. An example of this is in the right-hand screen shot above. So if you’re using both extensions, they can both display. (Again the Help Center is confusing on this.)

3. The tip mentioned above should be reworded to say something like, “If you don’t have bricks and mortar locations, you likely won’t want to use location extensions.”

4. One last clarification. Google always charged for click-to-call, so that has not changed. The difference here is that the company is not allowing the work-around of putting an un-clicakble phone number in ad copy.


Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Features: General | Google: AdWords | Google: AdWords: Enhanced Campaigns | Search Ads: Mobile Search | Search Ads: Pay Per Call | Search Marketing: Mobile | Top News


About The Author: writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting. Beyond Search Engine Land, Ginny provides search marketing and demand generation advice for ecommerce companies. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.

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  • Thomas Rasinen

    While setting up a new Enhanced Campaign in Google AdWords focused on roofing for a regional construction company, we learned the click-to-call functions are more expensive per call call than clicks.

    Therefore we focused on the location extension instead to minimize cost.

  • Robert J. Duncan

    But calls can lead to a higher conversion rate than clicks…

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Google has shown repeatedly that they are not your trusted business partner. They change rules and policies with little or no regard to anything but their own self interest. So implement anything they offer only as a short term term tactic. Do not bet your business on it.

  • E-Platform Marketing

    Self interest? While we, the customers, may not like it you must remember that Google’s first responsibility is to it’s shareholders. This is an opportunty to better monetize their product and it’s a fair move. You have the opportunity to buy Google stock and enjoy the ride. (and I am not a Google employee, just a free market capitalist).

  • Toby Danylchuk

    That’s bad news for a whole host of reasons! The number Google uses is a toll free #, not local, and has much lower response than using your local area code number. And to @disqus_IYGRfPh6sn:disqus point about what happens to the number when you stop…bad news that they just roll it over so quickly to someone else. From our own call tracking data from 3rd party providers, it takes at least 30 days for a number to be clean, and sometimes longer.

  • Trevor James McCann

    This is stupid, just another way for Google to charge advertisers. My Google account manager called me trying to get me to switch my clients to enhanced…I knew some bullshit like this was coming.

  • Govind Singh

    OMG What Google want….?

  • braintechnosys

    Google has been doing weird things since last 2 years to promote their own products and make more revenue.

  • robthespy

    I think a lot of you (advertisers) need to become a little more familiar with how “Call Extensions” work.

    I’m not sticking up for Google here, but there are a lot of misconceptions in the comments I’ve read.

    Reach out to an Adwords rep w/ your concerns. They may or may not give you the info your looking for…but that would be my first step.

    Personally, I want people coming to the website and then calling us/taking action. And if you position yourself properly via organic and local channels, a phone number in an Ad is probably a waste of $ AND space for most of us.

    …rolling w/ the punches- thanks, Google!

  • Jerry Nordstrom

    Google is just making friends left and right. We have rarely found Call extensions a profitable option. The calls come in less informed, close poorly, and the number they use starts on its multi-owner journey. In one case a customer saved the number on their smart phone, but named it with a friends contact # – They called the number 15 times a day for a week.

    Can you imagine how happy 1-800-flowers, 1-800-balloons, 1-800-dentist and the rest of the branded phone # companies are feeling about this?

  • robthespy

    Are you in the US?

    A) they don’t do that.

    B) you should have known what you were doing before you started using the number and again when you removed it.

    C) there are other options that could have allowed you to avoid this.

  • N Neologism

    Good thinking. If my revenue is down because of Google’s greedy policies, I can just make up the difference by investing in Google. Maybe we should all close up shop, invest in Google, and “enjoy the ride.”
    Another fine example of the sociopathy of the free-market capitalist.

  • Jerry Nordstrom

    Yes and no Robert. Given enough time consumers of some businesses may adapt the Google # as the main line for the business and call it as needed resulting in high Pay Per Call charges.

    I rarely remember my dentists #. When I need it I do a quick search, often its the first organic listing with the number right n the description. If there is an ad with the Google number many searchers may use that instead. They may even update their contact file with it.

    Advertisers want phone number extensions to increase new customer calls, not replace their official phone number used by existing customers.

    Can you think of any ways to minimize this risk?

  • Maggie Holley

    Google Forwarding Numbers are only available to the US, UK and Germany so that is a pain if you are in Australia!
    Call Tracking and dedicated numbers are advisable for small businesses especially…

  • Kashif Farhat

    Very informative article and comments!

    Somehow I don’t see any change in my ads in Google Adwords that I had set up in the January with our business phone number. My ad is still showing up in Google with the complete phone number. Any idea why this update has not affected my ads?

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