Subdomains versus autonomous sites: which should you use?

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website decisionChoosing whether you need your own autonomous domain can seem overwhelming, but the decision becomes a lot easier when you understand the main differences between autonomous sites and subdomain sites.

First, let's take a quick look at the difference between subdomains and autonomous domains. To properly grasp the difference, we have to understand that domains come in three levels.

The extension you choose for your domain—most likely .com or .ca in North America—is called the top-level domain (TLD). A TLD tells everybody which section of the world wide web your site belongs to, and is typically organized by country or region.

The second level comes from the unique identifier you give that TLD, and it's what we commonly refer to as "domain name". Realestatewebmasters.com is an example of a second-level domain, as is century21.com, coldwellbanker.com, kellerwilliams.com, and so forth.

The final and entirely optional third-level domain is a subdomain. Subdomains are a great way to add unique content areas to a second-level domain, and you've seen them across the web in examples like these:

  • support.realestatewebmasters.com
  • global.century21.com
  • maps.google.com

Here's a handy chart of the three domain levels for those visual learners out there:

Domain Level Examples Colloquial Term
Top

.com (US/Canada)
.ca (Canada)
.mx (Mexico)
.com.au (Australia)

Domain Extension
Second realestatewebmasters.com
century21.com
Domain or Autonomous Site
Third support.realestatewebmasters.com
global.century21.com
Subdomains

The last thing you need to understand about a subdomain is that search engines like Google evaluate them as separate entities from the second-level domain. In other words, a subdomain doesn't borrow the authority of the main domain, from an SEO perspective. Both autonomous sites and subdomains need to be built from the ground up, separately, if the goal is to rank in organic search results.

When to use a subdomain

In a nutshell, subdomains are used to organize unique sets of content on a domain. In the real estate context, we commonly see subdomains in two scenarios:

  • Agent subdomains on office/brokerage websites
  • Brokerage/office subdomains on franchise websites

In both situations, the agent, team, or office is attached to the main domain, and therefore borrows from its brand credibility and legitimacy. They are demonstrating to the world that they are an extension of that main brand, and that you can trust them as a result.

Real Estate Webmasters' clients on a subdomain benefit from many of the same features that the main domain has, like IDX searches and the REW CRM, while letting their franchise or team leader take care of the website costs and most maintenance.

Subdomains are a great option for agents who rely on their franchise or office for part or all of their marketing, or for agents who simply don't care to put their efforts into digital lead generation tactics at this point in time.

When to use an autonomous site

An autonomous site makes sense for real estate agents who want even more leads, have unique business needs, or crave creative control. Agents may find that they gravitate towards autonomous sites when their brokerage isn't meeting their lead influx needs, when they want to fast-track their success, or when they have a unique advertising strategy they want to try out.

A great example of the latter is TheBaldGuy.ca. The Bald Guy is a well-known brand here in Nanaimo, and you'll see his bald head and bold logo all around town. I've seen him on bus benches, in the newspaper, on his vehicle wrap, and so forth. Yet, I didn't know his real name or even his affiliated brokerage until I was looking at his website while writing this blog. This man has very successfully built a memorable brand around his baldness and it's become a cornerstone of his own independent marketing efforts.

Autonomous sites make sense when you're investing in yourself and putting significant effort into building your own leads, brand or strategy. It gives you the control to develop lucrative search engine marketing strategies, like Facebook campaigns or targetted Google Adwords. Autonomous sites also allow you to make the site your own, so it reflects who you are and meets your business demands.

When to use both an autonomous site & a subdomain

For many real estate agents, it makes sense to use both an autonomous site and a subdomain. If you want to leverage the power of your brokerage or franchise, and you want to run your own marketing initiatives, having both is going to be your best bet. You can benefit from the general marketing of your franchise on a subdomain, while simultaneously creating a hyper-local marketing campaign on an autonomous site. It's the best of both worlds!

What should I choose?

Whether you should choose an autonomous site or a subdomain will depend on what your marketing plans are. If you want to invest in your own brand and take full control of your lead generation strategy, an autonomous site is your best bet. However, if you'd rather lean on your brokerage benefits to attract and convert your clients, a subdomain will likely do the trick for you.

If you need additional help deciding whether to use an autonomous site or a subdomain, let us know! We'll be happy to review your circumstance and recommend the best type of site for your needs.

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