Sub Domain vs Full Website / Autonomous Site

Just got back from one of THE best events of any year when it comes to conferences, the One C21 Conference here in Canada where we launched our largest enterprise build (30,000 hours) and probably the biggest build by an external firm for a franchise in the history of modern real estate tech.

C21 put a LOT of work into the platform to make sure the agents got great tools, an awesome backend, SSO, marketing center etc. So much good stuff! They really wanted to make sure the vast majority of agents had their needs met out of the box.

And I think for the vast majority 90%+ it’s true. What they get from the franchise is more than they will ever need when it comes to web tools. They get a sub domain website, a CRM, a marketing center, Google Tools, and much more.

They are truly the best sub domains available in the country.

BUT the #1 question we get from the agents (and this applies to much more than C21 agents, is this:

Why would I go with a standalone site (or autonomous site) vs a free sub domain from the franchise.

There are a lot of really good reasons, but I’m going to break down some of the more important ones.

#1: Google Adwords, Double Serving. Google does not allow what they refer to as Double Serving. Fundamentally Google says " Using the Google Network to gain an unfair traffic advantage over other participants in the auction
Examples : Affiliates that advertise on Google Ads against the applicable affiliate program rules, promoting the same or similar content from multiple accounts on the same or similar queries, trying to show more than one ad at a time for your business, app, or site"

Because sub domains fundamentally are all the same (aside from a bit of content creating which most agents never really do) Google considers sending ads to multiple sub domains as Double Service. In a nutshell, it Violates Google’s TOS and is not allowed.

SO! If you want to run Google PPC ads (which many of the top 10% of Realtors do in any organization) you MUST have your own website to be able to do it.

Just this fact alone should cause you to choose your own website vs a sub domain if you’re in lead gen mode.

#2: Customization: While sub domains do allow you a lot of personalization (your own photos, content pages etc) you cannot do true customization. Meaning you cannot access the CSS / CORE HTML, any of the programming behind it etc and you cannot hire a third party firm (or REW) to do that for you either. So if you’re in a market where there are 10’s, hundreds, or even thousands of Agents all with the same company, if you all have the same sub domains it becomes much harder to differentiate yourself and stand out. Again, sub domains are great for a lot of use cases (and the C21 case they are free) but they are still quite limited in what you can do with them compared to the customization of your own site.

Take for example the below screenshot (a custom project we’re working on for Marcia Bergen, note how the layout has been completely redesigned to match her elegant, high end brand. No matter what you do on a sub domain, you can’t achieve this level of customization:

So are you happy to have the same thing as everyone else? Or are you developing your own personal custom brand and need a look and feel to match.

Are you creative and need to invent new and change things up from time to time on your design? A website vs a sub domain is the way to go.

#3: Conversion optimization: When you’re spending a lot of time and $ on ads with Google, Facebook, SEO etc conversion really matters. And each market is different, you can make small changes and see big returns. On a full site, we can change things up, custom tweak registration pages, program new features test, test and re-test. Imaging going from 5% conversion to 10% conversion. Your business doubles. Again, this kind of high end agency work is only done on autonomous sites.

#4: Risk of others. This is an often overlooked item. Most large companies that have thousands of agents do not have strong content policies nor do they monitor or police the content of their agents. If other agents are stealing content and copy pasting into their sites, or they do other practices against Google’s TOS, it can have a negative effect on the entire network. In the C21 example, I know they have told agents “your content must be unique” but really there is no way to police this effectively across 11,000 members, and so by being attached to others, you risk your own site being effected by something someone else has done.

#5: Consumer Perception: Your own domain vs a sub domain. What looks more professional? morgancarey5.franchise.com or morgancarey.com? You can mitigate this somewhat for direct traffic by buying your own domain and pointing to your sub domain, but in SEO, social and ads, there is no way around it. Consumers are going to see you’re using the company site vs putting effort into your own site. Do all consumers know? No. But for me, it’s important enough to not chance it.

Try this exercise: Take a look at the top 10 agents, teams or brokerages in your market. How many of them use sub domains?

#6: Why not have 2 spots? The franchise will likely rank for lots of terms for you but why not also have your OWN site ranking just above (or just below) the franchise site. Giving you options to capture traffic and deals.

#7: And finally for this part of the thread, you need to realize there is only ONE spot! Even if the franchise does do a great job at SEO (which I’m sure C21 will do as example) Google will pick one (and only one) of the sub domains on the franchise site to rank. If you’re in Toronto and there are 3,000 agents, what are the chances it is going to be yours? You have far less control here (and your chances are 1/3000) in short, they are not good.

Ok so after all that, as I said it only really matters to the top 10% of folks who are actually looking to leverage their site to “drive” traffic (through paid ads, SEO etc) if you’re just sending traffic via telling people to go to your redirected URL, or it’s on your business card etc sub domains are TOTALLY FINE, they look great, they can have unique content, they have a great search and more.

So which one are you? A site to just drive my own traffic to? Or a site that I really want to leverage to drive traffic.

Let’s discuss below:

PS, if you’re a brokerage I honestly don’t think there is any excuse. You should be having your own domain to represent your brand. But that is a more specific sub topic I’ll cover later.

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I agree with all of your points and also that is probably a 90/10 split on who needs their own site compared to an awesome sub domain/CRM.

I wanted to expand on your branding item. Although in this case (Century 21) is extremely well known, there is still a huge opportunity to leverage your own brand as well with your own site. Position yourself (or your team) as an expert in the area and also being powered and backed by a reputable brokerage is huge.

Lastly, I know people aren’t going into their work thinking this, but what happens if you leave a brokerage. If all of your image and marketing is tied to the brokerage brand then you’re starting from scratch.

I feel very strongly that it’s important for people to have their own brand in conjunction. You’re completing everyday for consumers to pick you over the next agent, it’s important to do everything you can to stand out!

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