Why Did Google Remove The Phone Numbers?

Google appears to have removed the phone  numbers from map listings (7 Pack) that show in response to local queries. Here’s a typical recent local search result for “dentist, San Francisco”:

Picture 41

Look at that same query this morning. Yes, it’s much cleaner looking but the phone numbers are gone (from all but the Local Listing Ads):

Picture 42

Several things are interesting about it: 

  • The absence of conventional AdWords (this is very interesting and worthy of independent further exploration and discussion)
  • As mentioned, the presence of phone numbers in the Local Listing Ads but their absence from the 7 Pack

This appears to be a global change. Here’s what shows for “sushi, London“:

Picture 43

No phone numbers on the first page. If you click down, the phone numbers are there:

Picture 44

The change appears also in mobile but somewhat inconsistently. Below are variations on the query for “sushi” with and without location from an iPhone:

Picture 49

It may be difficult to see, but there are no phone numbers on the first page in any of the three left queries:

  • Sushi, London
  • Sushi (Web)
  • Sushi San Franciso (Web)

In the final screenshot on the right (“sushi” using the Local tab), we do see phone numbers. Otherwise they’re not present — though they were as recently as a day or two ago. The question is: Why has Google made this change?  Is Google trying to drive calls to advertisers rather than organic listings, which now “bury” the phone number below the click:

Picture 51

Is Google trying to combat or prevent this:

Picture 52Picture 53

The second image is a screen from the European Directories-Skype deal that uses phone number recognition to “activate” (free call) the numbers of European Directories advertisers and overcome the problem of diminishing SEO visibility for local, organic third party links on page one “above the fold.” The removal of phone numbers from the “7 Pack” effectively kills that deal’s value. There was reason to belive that Skype and other directory publishers in the US and around the globe would have done or are working on something similar. If the purpose of removing the phone numbers from the 7 Pack was to kill the directory-Skype deal scenario it would raise anti-competitive issues I believe. 

I’m going to ask Google to comment and I’ll post any response I receive from them verbatim.

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9 Responses to “Why Did Google Remove The Phone Numbers?”

  1. Google Removes Phone Numbers From 7 Pack Says:

    [...] I’ve asked Google to comment and I also have more extensive discussion of other potential angles and issues on my personal blog Screenwerk. [...]

  2. Jeff Says:

    Wrangling these listings is part of our service over here at Local.com, so we panicked a little when we saw this post… however, some spot checks in different cities have show that the phone numbers are still in tact (Dentists in Irvine, autos in Boise, grocery stores in Foothill Ranch). In fact, the link you provided to San Francisco still has them in tact from out here in Irvine, CA.

    Could it just be a glitch or perhaps a slow roll out?

  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    Google may be playing around to test consumer response, but they’re gone apparently in London. So not sure. G hasn’t yet responded to my note.

  4. Rebecca L. Says:

    I was just writing up my own post on this, went back to check something else, and the phone numbers appear to be back.

  5. They’re Back: Local Phone Numbers « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] haven’t heard anything from Google to clarify what this was about. In addition, the conventional AdWords ads have returned above the LLAds. My suspicion is that [...]

  6. Why Did Google Remove The Phone Numbers? « Business Fog Says:

    [...] The absence of conventional AdWords (this is very interesting and worthy of Source: Screenwerk RSS Feed [...]

  7. Casey Says:

    Google is all about tracking and clicks, the ability to call without some sort of tracking didn’t fit into the algorithm.

  8. Boise Dentist Says:

    Probably because the company’s complained about spam. But tracking also sounds like a reasonable explanation.

  9. Google Algo Changes Drop ‘The Other Shoe’ « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] common appearance of a map + 7 in response to explicit and implicit local intent queries. That took away many of the “above the fold” SEO slots available to local sites such as yellow pages publishers. However, some of that real estate has [...]

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