Google Disallows Phone Numbers in PPC Ads

Written by: Jason Bayless | May 17, 2013

As of April 2013, Google no longer allows advertisers to include phone numbers in their pay per click (PPC) ads. Instead of a phone number, the ad will display a Call Button for smartphones; on desktops, laptops and tablets, the number will display as a “call extension” but won’t be clickable.

Google announced the change on March 16, 2013 with this explanation:

“In the next few weeks, we will no longer allow phone numbers to be used in the ad text of new ads. Advertisers who would still like to promote phone numbers in their AdWords advertising can use the call extensions feature. We’re posting this alert now to provide adequate lead time to make ad changes. In April 2013, we will begin to disapprove ads that were using phone numbers in their ad text before the March 2013 policy change. We are making this change to foster a safer, more consistent user experience across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.”

What this change means for PPC advertisers

A 2012 study by Accenture found that 61 percent of all Internet users were accessing the Internet via a mobile device, and that number is likely to go higher each year.

The good news for advertisers is that it offers mobile users a quick, obvious and easy way to take action. The bad news is that it basically allows Google to charge more for mobile ads as it transitions to providing enhanced PPC campaigns: Each time a user clicks the Call Button, the advertiser is charged regular click-through fees.

(We should mention here that Google has always charged a per-click fee for “click to call,” but by discontinuing phone numbers in PPC ads, it is removing the ability for mobile users to call without clicking through – so PPC advertising costs will go up.)

The Call Button will only be available for those devices that allow the user to click and call, so it won’t be available for the iPod Touch. Also, there are concerns about how well the Call Button will work across different mobile platforms – so some users may be negatively affected, too.

Who will be most affected by Google discontinuing phone numbers in PPC ads?

Critics of the change say that Google, rather than wanting to “foster a safer, more consistent user experience across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices,” really just wanted to monetize those taps on phone numbers. It has also been said that the biggest losers in this scenario will be the small business owners who will now be charged for direct phone calls as well as clicks on the URL in the ad.

Small businesses will also have to get a minimum number of clicks before the call extension shows up. As Google informs advertisers, “your ad group will have to receive a minimum number of clicks … and a minimum number of calls to show a Google forwarding number.”

Still, Google will still allow “legacy call extensions” for customers running non-enhanced PPC campaigns. To add a legacy call extension via your AdWords account, you simply choose Call Extensions from the Ad Extensions tab and select “Not Upgraded.” Then (depending on which country you’re in) you may have the choice to add either a Google forwarding phone number or your own business phone number. Google’s Adwords Help offers more information about adding phone numbers.