Should you block advertisers that display phone numbers in ads?

Depending on what market area you are in, you may have seen ads showing up with phone numbers in the ad.  From an advertiser perspective, it is the possibility of getting a conversion without having to pay for a click… a pretty smart move from any perspective if the call to action of the ad is good enough that people want to pay.

Ads with phone numbers have been around forever, and when I questioned the AdWords team about it a couple of years ago, I was told that the advertiser would still be responsible for maintaining a good quality score (and thus higher rankings for where the ads would be displayed in comparison to other advertisers for the same keywords).  So if the clicks weren’t happening, the advertiser would have to up the ante by paying a lot more for those clicks to get around the quality score slap, or change their ad to get more clicks for less money by removing the phone number.

But from a publisher perspective, if a visitor lands on your site and sees an ad that they convert on, but only by phoning the displayed number and not actually clicking, that is lost revenue.  And especially if that advertiser is paying a lot for each click, it could end up being a significant loss for the publisher, especially if it is a high traffic site and many are phoning instead of clicking the ad.

Do note that I am talking about regular AdSense ads displayed on sites with a desktop browser, these are not the Mobile AdSense ads where clicking on the phone number to call it on a mobile would result in the publisher earning money and the advertiser getting charged.

For my own sites, this hasn’t been much of a problem, I tend to notice one of them showing up regularly on my site with a phone number, but since I am geotargeted Canada where only a very small percent of that sites visitors are from, I don’t worry about it.

However, I have had a client who just seemed to be plagued with those kinds of ads, which was combined with a CTR rate lower than I would have expected for the market area and the almost-in-your-face ad placement.  And checking CPM vs EPC ads showed than less than 1% of earnings a day were coming from CPM ads.  So knowing it was unlikely that any of the phone number advertisers were CPM ads (or if they were, the income from CPM was so small, it really wasn’t a major factor), we decided to bite the bullet early one morning and block every advertiser displaying a phone number using the competitive ad filter.  End result?  Both CTR rate and overall income increased significantly.

However, if you do it, you will want to watch your earnings closely to make sure the move is actually increasing your revenue…  there is a chance an advertiser is running more ads than just the one with the phone number, meaning you might have inadvertantly blocked all of them from displaying, not just the one with the pesky phone number, if they all share the same URL.  Or you could try and avoid that problem all together be adding more specific URLs to the filter (ie. rather than just

I then suggested that once a week or so, someone checks a couple pages in each section of the site, and using both visual and the AdSense Preview Tool, to check for any new ads with phone numbers, watching for obvious signs if any of them happened to be CPM ads (which would be better to keep, since they earn the publisher money whether or not they are clicked).

I also suggested periodically re-doing the blocked advertiser list, as advertisers could change their ad copy to remove the phone number, and if those ads would earn you more money per click, it obviously makes sense to get them back into the ad rotation on your site if the phone number is no longer there.    For tips on how to test if your filter list is really working for you or costing you revenue, there are instructions in the second half of my previous blog post Using your AdSense & YPN filter list with caution.

So bottom line, if the ads are not CPM ads, I do recommend blocking them, especially if you notice that you are getting multiples across your site.   Just watch carefully for the first couple of days and make sure you didn’t accidentily shoot your earnings while you were at it 😉

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4 comments to Should you block advertisers that display phone numbers in ads?

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that AdSense serves the ads that earn the most for the publisher. And not by the CPC, but by the eCPM metrics. In such a case ads with phone numbers would be clicked less often, and so without high CPC they wouldn’t show up on the publisher’s site.

  • Should you block advertisers that display phone numbers in ads?

  • Mark A

    Does anyone know how successful the ads are from a advertiser perspective? Wondering if using up ad copy space with a phone number pays off or not.

  • I also questioned Google about this when I first noticed it a couple of years ago and was told that it’s OK with them. It’s not OK with me. We get paid based on clicks and last time I checked, phone calls don’t generate clicks. I have no idea why Google allows this.

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