Tips for Choosing a Domain Name (Updated 2020 Edition)

When was the last time you had a great idea for a domain name? Or is it that you already have a brand name but you’re having trouble picking out a great domain name to go with it? Choosing a domain name is not easy.

Too many questions. Getting down to the point, picking a domain name is not easy. It takes some brainstorming, creativity, psychology, research, and rigor.

But it’s not impossible. With all the top level domain options available today, you have more than enough variety and options to express yourself.

Here are some proven strategies:

Note: throughout this article I’ll refer to your website visitors as “customers.” Even if your website is purely information rather than an e-commerce store it is correct to assume that your reader is a customer in the sense that there is a transaction happening. Any visitor of your website is paying you their attention in exchange for something.

Choosing a Domain Name for Your Target Audience

While considering your target audience can be critically important for search engine optimization, it can also be helpful for domain selection.

Various demographic information like age, cohort, or gender can help you at least eliminate certain low-value domains from your list. Taking age for example, you’ll note that people of different age groups use the Internet differently.

Is your ideal customer likely to type in your domain name directly or use a search engine to find you?

Taking the example further, let’s examine eBay. Some people type “ebay.com” into their browser address bar to get to the eBay website; they will then use the search future to shop for products. On the other hand, some users search Google for a specific product and then filter results for e-commerce websites. In the latter case, eBay may appear alongside other search results.

Both instances demonstrate a difference of search habit. How your users will recall and use your domain name will play a role in your selection process.

The difference in habit, in industry terms, comes down to organic vs. direct traffic.

Direct traffic happens when someone types your brilliant, catchy domain right into the address bar because it’s so good they couldn’t forget it.

Organic search traffic happens when someone is searching a topic with a search engine and the search engine recommends your site by lifting it up higher in the search results pages.

  • Which type of traffic figures more heavily in your strategy?
  • Which traffic source best aligns with your target audience?

These considerations will help determine how much time and effort you’ll put into your domain name.

Using Your Own Name

The general rule is, don’t use your name, unless…

There are exceptions to the rule, but a domain name is best optimized according to function. How do you want your domain to perform?

Choosing a Business Domain Name

You may remember the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In the film, Ryan runs a small bookstore called The Shop Around The Corner.

You've got mail movie poster

Now let’s imagine Ryan wanted to take her inventory online, so she first went shopping for a domain name. She begins to search:

  • theshoparoundthecorner.com is taken
  • shoparoundthecorner.com is taken

Ryan could still purchase this domain by using an alternate “top level domain” like shoparoundthecorner.online or shoparoundthecorner.co.

Alternatively, she could stop and think, maybe “Shop Around The Corner” is too long and too specific for a domain name. Remember, when selecting a domain name, brevity is your friend. A domain like cornershop.com might be perfect, but it’s also taken. Likewise, cornerbooks.com is reserved.

You see how frustrating the domain search process can be.

But there’s hope. When all other options have been exhausted, you could introduce some specificity. For example, since The Shop Around The Corner is in New York City, how about cornerbooksny.com? Not a bad alternative.

The point is, your domain does not need to align with your business name exactly. You can get creative.

  • Generate multiple alternatives for your domain name
  • Get creative by adding specificity or re-arranging words
  • Try to be brief and memorable with your domain

Using Your Name as a Personal Brand

It’s not uncommon to see bloggers or celebrities use their own name for their domain name.

In some cases, like if your name is highly recognizable, your personal domain may save you some trouble in dealing with domain holders charging exorbitant rates.

When building his personal website, actor Brent Spiner could not secure his own personal domain because someone already owned it and demanded a higher-than-normal fee. So Spiner opted to register therealbrentspiner.com.

Take note though, if you ever plan on selling your website to a third party, having your personal name attached to it can introduce complications and make your offering less viable.

Unique Qualities

When selecting a domain name, it’s best to consider a little psychology. Pay close attention to the images and ideas that certain words or sounds might evoke in your ideal customer.

Sometimes even a word that sounds off or weird can create valuable traces in memory. Who would have thought the word “Google” would become inextricably associated with web search?

Don’t Try to Steal Recognition

As a general tip, don’t try to cash in on someone else’s brand name by registering a similar-sounding domain.

This would occasionally frustrate users in the old days of the Internet. Certain webmasters would register deceptively similar domain names of popular websites, counting on users accidentally spelling a popular domain wrong.

Search engines largely helped to diminish this activity and help worthy sites get discovered.

Bottom line, don’t bother trying to ape somebody else’s domain. It’s more likely you’ll get slapped with some sort of trademark infringement lawsuit than cadge some unwitting web visitors.

Be Brief

It may go without saying, and you’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: be brief. Be brief. Be brief.

A long domain name can be confusing for many reasons. While it’s true that search engines will help you gain some organic traffic, if your pages are sufficiently optimized, there will be times when someone will have to type your domain name manually. Why risk it?

Notice how The New York Times truncated their proper name for an optimized domain name: nytimes.com. Do the likewise.

A shorter domain also makes it less likely someone will spell it wrong.

Watch For Stop Words

“Stop words,” generally referring to the most common words in the language, often filtered out by computers, should be excluded from your domain name.

If computers, and most humans, will simply filter those words out, like they don’t exist, why waste precious real estate on them?

Your domain name should be brief and memorable. Words like these have no place there:

  • The
  • And
  • An
  • Those
  • May
  • To
  • From
  • Always
  • Make

It’s just easier to trim these wherever possible.

Nix On The Symbols and Numbers Too

If a domain that closely matches your brand name is already registered, it’s tempting to chop it up with a hyphen or a number, or some other disruptive symbol.

The heavily valued shopgirl.com domain is unavailable at the moment, unless you’re willing to pay top dollar.

Does that mean you should chop it up into shop-girl.com?

Maybe. It depends. Definitely cheaper. But in general, you’d be best advised to get creative and try some alternatives.


If you have an idea for a great domain name but you’re not sure yet exactly what you want to do with it, you should go ahead an register the domain right away. Also note, all InMotion Hosting accounts come with a free domain name registration for the first year. Don’t hesitate to register your trademark domain right away.

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