Google Is Changing How Call Extensions Show in 2 Weeks – Here's What You Need to Know


For years, local advertisers have relied on a well-structured Google My Business account to manage how their businesses appear on the SERP, both for their organic listings and their paid ads. A complete Google My Business Listing could help you dominate the local organic SERP, highlighting information about your business, address, phone number, hours, reviews, pictures, and (quite literally) put your business on the map. Linking your Google My Business to your AdWords account allowed you to show ads on Google Maps and create location extensions to show your address to local searchers right in your ads.

This is changing. Google announced yesterday that starting on January 19, AdWords will also begin to show local searchers the local phone number of that advertiser’s address as it’s listed in their Google My Business account, regardless of how they’ve set up their call extensions. That means that if you’re using call tracking or another number phone in your call extensions, that call extension number will no longer appear alongside your ads on the local SERP with your location extension.

Google’s full announcement is available below:

location extensions vs call extensions

Who Is Most Affected by this Change?

This change only affects how ads appear when a location extension is being shown and local extensions only appear when a user is relatively close to that location. Call extensions will still appear unchanged when location extensions do not show, which is the overwhelming majority of the time. Most regional, national and international advertisers won’t notice any significant changes.

However, local advertisers who show their location extensions more frequently may notice more calls going to their Google My Business number rather than their Call Extension number. To see how often your location extensions show, view the location extension metrics under the “Ad Extensions” tab:

view location extensions metrics in adwords

The Pros

From a user perspective, this change unifies the SERP and ensures that the information Google is sharing is consistent between the paid ads and the organic local results. Users have every reason to be confused whenever Google shows different phone numbers for the same local business address:

location extensions changes

In the screenshot above, Google shows different numbers for the same business address in the paid ad (top result) and the organic listing (right). Google’s change on Jan. 19 will effectively end that discrepancy so that users will only be served one phone number for local businesses.

From an advertiser perspective, this may make account management easier for a lot of local businesses. No longer will they need to create several different call extensions and different campaigns just to make sure they’re directing calls to the correct location. Once you’ve set all of this up within your Google My Business account, you’ll always serve the right phone number with the right location. Additionally, since location extensions are created at the account level, rather than the campaign level like call extensions, advertisers won’t need to worry about forgetting to apply a call extension to an individual campaign.

The Cons

While ads will still drive the same number of calls, the major drawback to this change is that local advertisers will lose the ability to track and report these calls from ads as conversions, which is of course the whole point of call tracking. This will make managing and optimizing your account particularly difficult if your main goal is to drive calls.

Luckily, if this change absolutely terrifies you, Google will allow you to opt out of showing location-specific phone numbers in your ads by filling out this form before January 19, 2017.

What You Can Do to Prepare for the Change:

  1. Don’t panic! Determine how much this change will affect you by reviewing how often your location extensions appear. It may surprise you how infrequently your extensions show, especially if you’re targeting a large area.
  2. Make sure your Google My Business listings and phone numbers are correct and up to date for all your locations.
  3. If your main goal is to get more phone calls, consider using call-only campaigns. You’ll still be able to track mobile click to call actions from mobile devices.
  4. If you’re worried about missing out on calls from your call extensions, make sure you start tracking calls from your landing pages as well! Most prospects will want to visit your site before making a call and often landing pages can drive 4-5 times as many calls as the call extensions on the SERP. Make sure you’re using a complete call tracking solution that can track calls from your landing pages as well.
  5. If all else fails, you do have the option to unlink your Google My Business account from your AdWords account. You’ll no longer be able to serve location extensions or ads on Google Maps, but you’ll have complete control back of how your phone number appears alongside your ads!

Although change is often scary, Google integrating this kind of business data into local ads has the potential to be increasingly powerful in 2017 and make account management easier as well.

About the author:

Mark is a Senior Data Scientist at WordStream with a background in SEM, SEO, and Statistical Modeling. He was named the 14th Most Influential PPC Expert of 2016 by PPC Hero. You can follow him on TwitterLinkedIn, and Google +.

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Jan 09, 2017

It is very helpful content thanks for sharing.........

Jon Vaughn
Jan 09, 2017

Thanks for the adword change information. I've a question that whether the settings of the ads will also change?

Mark Irvine
Jan 09, 2017

Hi Jon,

Your targeting and ad settings should not be affected by this change.

Jan 09, 2017

Does it mean that google will not replace our business number with the google forwarding number if our ad is showing with location extension?

Mark Irvine
Jan 09, 2017

Hi Shekhar,

That is correct. Your GMB number will trump your call extension number /forwarding number when your location extensions show.

Andrew Pasternak
Jan 12, 2017

Hi Mark,

I was a bit confused in reading these two things together (the blog post along with the announcement from Google), because, to me, it seems like Google is saying that while they will show the same number you will still be able to see call volume details on your call extensions in AdWords. Granted, you are probably right that you might lose some conversion specific data if you have configured some form of advanced call tracking solution- but in the end that doesn't seem as scary as it first appears.

Maybe they've just figured out how to track when a phone call is made even to a local, non-tracked number when that number is also being shown in a Google search? After all, it appears that they will still be charging you for the calls that are generated from your location extensions, even if it does just go to a local number listed in your Google My Business account (which is what you can opt out of).

At least that's how I read it. Now I think I'm confused lol.

Mark Irvine
Jan 13, 2017

Hi Andrew,

I am open to be mistaken here, but I haven't heard of any changes specific changes regarding the GMB platform being able to track calls from a unique source - paid or organic. At the moment, you are unable to report any of those calls.

Advertisers who opt out in advance of the change are asked to provide a reason and the second option for opting out is "I want detailed call reporting and the ability to track conversions from these phone calls," which resonates to the fact that you will lose that functionality using your GMB number.
Search Engine Land provided additional details in their post:
"A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that AdWords is actively exploring conversion tracking on location-specific phone numbers. Until that happens, advertisers that are not equipped to have calls come to individual locations, don’t want to lose conversion tracking or have other reasons they don’t want to pay to have calls coming to individual locations, are in a tight place come January 19."

Dan Herbert
Jan 13, 2017

Why aren't more PPC managers upset by this? They are taking away a conversion factor that we (PPC agency account managers) depend on to report back to the client for successes. To contact all of our clients, explain the situation (sometimes explain it twice) and get them to make a decision within a two week time frame is going to be difficult... Finally I will leading all of my clients to opt out of this... i see very little benefit from our side of the coin.

Phillip Barnhart
Jan 31, 2017

This post in part inspired me to document the workaround Google provides. You can easily add a call tracking number via Google My Business. Recommend

Mar 06, 2017

Couldn't you unlink form GMB and simply add a manual location extension with your call tracking number as the phone number? Would this impact your visibility on map ads and local pack ads?

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