Wait, What? Golfers will now get money based on Google searches?

With the introduction of a player bonus scheme based on popularity, we take a look at which Golfers are most likely to benefit and earn millions of dollars.

Wait, What? Golfers will now get money based on Google searches?

What is SEO and how to do it?

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The 3 most important things on a SEO strategy

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On Page SEO: Optimize your Website

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Off Page SEO: Link Building Strategy

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Wrapping up the article

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This week news broke of a rather interesting bonus scheme for Golfers being introduced by The PGA. The incentives are based on a variety of factors more closely linked to popularity and fan appeal than sporting achievements. These cover areas such as personal brand exposure, fan engagement and how much they’re talked about it in the media.

pga player impact metrics.png

The one that caught our eye the most however was “their popularity in Google search”. Google search volume will now be a contributing factor in deciding which 10 golfers earn up to a $8m share of a $40m purse that will “recognize and reward players who positively move the needle.” Interesting.

As an SEO agency, we know a thing or two about search volume. We also know a fair amount when it comes to the commercialisation of social media and the value of engaged audiences. Both of which got us thinking, from the metrics we’re able to accurately report ourselves, which of Golf’s elite are currently positioned to profit the most from this new concept.

The Most Searched For Golfers

The Most Search For Golfers

Quite predictably, Tiger Woods is the most searched for Golfer. Anyone could have called that one. Over a million people on average around the world put Tiger Woods’ name into Google. What’s more interesting however is the massive disparity between Tiger and the rest. Tiger’s search volume almost beats the next seven names combined.

Which also brings up a significant flaw in “their popularity in Google search” being used, even only in part, to help decide who takes away up to $8m. The second most searched for Golfer is “Adam Scott”. Here’s the issue. When you search for “Adam Scott”, Google assumes you mean Ben from Parks & Rec, not Adam Scott the Golfer.  

Using Google search volume to help decide who gets literally millions of dollars has lots of flaws. The numbers that we generated in our table below are just for exact match searches. They don’t include other variations. Will every search that includes “tiger woods” somewhere in the query count? “tiger woods ex wife” gets on average 72,000 searches every month. That’s more than Rickie Fowler and all but 11 Golfers. Does that count towards his “popularity in Google search”?

Will a positive/negative sentiment of the searches be factored in? We are talking about search volume and not search results right? Will Adam Scott benefit from having a more famous namesake? What about people spelling Bryson Dechambeau’s name wrong? Will Golfers be asking their friends and family to keep searching for them in Google multiple times a day to spike their search volume?

The Most Followed Golfers

The Most Followed Golfers

Social Media followers wasn’t listed quite as directly as a metric like “search popularity in Google” was, but has a strong correlation to “their Nielsen Brand Exposure rating, which places a value on the exposure a player delivers to sponsors though the minutes they are featured on broadcasts” and “their Q Rating, which measures the familiarity and appeal of a player’s brand.”

Again, quite predictably, Tiger comes out on top. I think he can probably start planning how to spend his $8m already. With over 6.6 million followers on Twitter, he has over double that of Rory McIlroy, and over triple that of Ian Poulter, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, the only other Golfers to have cracked the million followers mark on Twitter.

Instagram tells much the same story. Tiger comes out on top again but not quite as far ahead of Rory this time, boasting 2.623 million followers to Rory’s 2.148 million. Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson & Phil Mickelson are the other names with over a million followers on Instagram.

Here’s a thought. Buying 3 million followers on Instagram would set you back just under $30,000. Will we start seeing Golfers hiring agencies that just buy them a load of fake followers to help the algorithm view them as being more popular and reward them with millions each year for doing so?

The Most Engaging Instagram Accounts

The Most Engaged With Golfers

“their MVP Index rating, which calibrates the value of the engagement a player drives across social and digital channels.” is another slightly vague metric being used by The PGA. For the sake of this mini experiment, we just looked at engagement rate on Instagram.

These results are more interesting and perhaps not what you’d expect to see, and also highlight another flaw with these metrics being used to decide who earns such rich payments. The most engaged with Instagram account belongs to Doc Redman, at 13.88%. Doc has just over 6,000 followers on Instagram. Over the top 10 most engaged accounts, only 4 have over 100,000 followers.

Here’s why engagement rate can be deceiving. Accounts with smaller followings having higher engagement rates isn’t unusual. The fans following the less mainstream Golfers are more likely to be more hardcore Golf fans. Rory McIlroy for example will have a lot more people following him because he’s somewhat crossed over from the Golf world into celebrity culture. He’s got a lot more people following him because he’s famous rather than because they’re really engaged by his content. That’s just the way that social media works. And as a result, the more famous Golfers will naturally have lower engagement rates.

The Golfers Most Likely To Benefit From The PGA’s $40m Bonus

To do this we simply combined the number of monthly Google Searches, Twitter Followers and Instagram Followers for the top Golfers on the tour. We ignored Instagram engagement rate since it massively skewed the results in an unreliable fashion. The PGA metrics refer to the value of the engagement rather than just the engagement figures themselves which suggests Justin Thomas’ 6.86% rate is more “valuable” than Doc Redman’s 13.88%. The top 10 were:

  1. Tiger Woods
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Jordan Spieth
  4. Rickie Fowler
  5. Bubba Watson
  6. Ian Poulter
  7. Dustin Johnson
  8. Phil Mickelson
  9. Justin Thomas
  10. Justin Rose

Interestingly, eight of the top ten here also feature in the top ten for 2019 that the PGA released based on the actual algorithm. The most eye catching difference between that ten and our ten above is their inclusion of Adam Scott, despite having a pretty average social following, suggesting that maybe he is getting a lot of benefit from having a famous namesake that is getting a lot of media coverage and Google searches.

The Future of Golf?

What sort of impact will this have on Golfers in the future? The safe bet would be that nothing drastic changes. Golfers in the top 50 or so might look into paying people to manage their PR and Social if it can sneak them into the algorithm’s top ten. But it does present the opportunity for a mildly successful Golfer to suddenly add millions to their annual earnings if they were to massively embrace celebrity culture.

Let’s use Paige Spiranac as an example and imagine that she was a) a man and b) playing on the PGA Tour. Her name gets 885,000 searches a month on average, over 600,000 more than anyone other than Tiger. Her 3 million Instagram followers eclipse everyone including Tiger. Only 6 of the top 20 followed Golfers on Instagram have a higher engagement rate with their posts. Using our formula above looking at a sample of the data going into the PGA’s algorithm, she’d finish 3rd, and be pretty much guaranteed to finish in the top 10, thus earning her millions.

So there’s a strong chance that a male equivalent of Paige playing on the tour (a John Daley character for example) could easily earn a large share of the $40m bonus being introduced, over players that are far more successful on the tour, but ultimately less popular in the media and on the internet.


Google Search Volume data collected using Ahrefs.

Follower Counts were rounded up to the nearest 1000.

Instagram Engagement Rates were calculated using modash.io.

The full dataset can be viewed here.