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Choosing a Domain Name“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” At least, that’s what Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet.

But I tend to side with L.M. Montgomery, who wrote in Anne of Green Gables: “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”

Names have power.

Many mental health professionals assume the first step in setting up a website is the site’s design. But choosing the right domain name is equally, if not more, important.

A domain name is the unique address or URL of a particular website that defines itself from every other website on the World Wide Web. For example, the domain name for the Therapy Marketing Institute is

Choosing the right domain name can be crucial to your website’s success, no matter what type of site you want to build.

It’s not uncommon for therapists to get so caught up in the design process that they forget that their domain name is often the first thing people see (and remember). Again, words have meaning and names have power.

A name plays a prominent role when people discover, remember, think about, talk about, search for, or navigate to a website, and your domain name can help establish a theme for the branding of your website before people even visit it for the first time.

Coming up with a good domain name requires a combination of strategy and imagination.

If you start searching online for help with choosing your domain name, you’ll find some pieces of advice recur over and over again, and it’s worth mentioning them here. Ideally, your domain name should be:

  • Short
  • Memorable and catchy
  • Easy to spell
  • Easy to pronounce
  • Different from your competitors’ domain names

You also need to make sure your domain name doesn’t violate someone else’s trademark.

While these are all good rules of thumb, they lack specifics. These are really criteria to help you evaluate potential domain names after you’ve thought of them.

To come up with a name in the first place, you need to know what type of name is best for you. And before you can answer that question, you have to answer another…

How Do You Plan to Get Traffic to Your Website?

Knowing the answer to this question can help you avoid a lot of confusion about what makes for a good domain name.

You can easily find a variety of opinions on how the answer to this question should affect your choice of domain name, and some peoples’ views on this issue directly contradict others. For example, some marketing gurus recommend using “discoverable” keyword-based domain names (such as or, while others advise against this practice in favor of unique, company- or brand-based keywords (such as,, and

So, who’s right? Well, neither… And both.

You see, these two views correspond to different strategies for getting web traffic. The first focuses on what is commonly referred to as a “discoverable” domain name. That’s a name that can be found by someone who doesn’t know about your website but is doing web searches on keywords and phrases related to a specific topic, or by typing those words and phrases directly into the navigation bar of an Internet browser. Discoverable names are generically descriptive.

The second point of view is focused on “brandable” domain names. A brandable name establishes a distinct identity and can be used to communicate indirectly with visitors and prospective clients as well as evoke interesting ideas and feelings.

Discoverable or Brandable?

So, should you use a discoverable domain name or a brandable one?

If you intend to rely primarily on organic search engine results for a specific topic (such as “family therapy san francisco”) for your website’s traffic, you might want a discoverable name… but not necessarily. Even if your website has a brandable name, it can still rank well in search engine results for keywords and phrases, as long as it’s optimized and full of relevant content.

Discoverable names are real words and phrases. While they can help your site’s search engine rankings for a specific word or phrase, they are only really necessary for business owners counting on “type-in” traffic. That is, businesses counting on website visitors finding them by typing specific words and phrases directly into the navigation bars of their browsers.

If you don’t have the budget to buy a single real-word domain, then you’ll need to go for a phrase. Common phrases are often taken, so it can take time to find one. The trick to a discoverable name is not to be clever but to think of a phrase that other people would likely think of as well and would type in a search engine or navigation bar. This is yet another instance of where keyword research is critical in determining what phrases people are searching. The catch is that you have to find one that hasn’t yet been registered. Instant Domain Search and Domains Bot are great tools for checking the availability of domain names and finding alternatives to those that are taken, although I don’t necessarily recommend you register your domain with these services.

Once you’ve found one or more domain names you’re interested in, I recommend registering your domains using either or (I use the latter simply because they’re cheaper). Registering a domain name shouldn’t cost more than $10 or so per year. So, if you find more than one domain you like, register any/all of them. For just $10 or so you get a year to decide whether or not you want to use the domain without worrying about someone else taking it.

Now, if your marketing plan is based more on word-of-mouth referrals, paid search listings, and/or buzz generated by mentions of your site, then you will almost certainly want a brandable name.

If you’re creating a website for an already established psychotherapy practice or other business, you should use your current business name. However, if you’re creating a website for a new business or practice, it’s best to come up with a name that’s distinct, evocative, and memorable, and use that name for both your business and your domain.

It’s also important to plan ahead… If you’re going to spend a lot of time developing content for your website and plan on investing in ongoing search engine optimization, you can and should view your website and your domain name as an investment. A website with prominent rankings in the search engines and a large amount of traffic can fetch a pretty penny if/when you choose to sell it and/or your practice. And your website will be much more valuable to someone else if your site’s domain is either a discoverable word or phrase or uses a branded name that is not your personal name (John Doe, LCSW, is less likely to pay top dollar for the website of Jane Smith, MFT, if the domain name of Jane’s site is as opposed to something like

Domain Name Strategies

If you decide to go with a discoverable domain name (such as, then all you really need to do to find the best domain is some solid keyword research. Determine the best words and phrases to target and register one or more domain names using them. For example, if you specialize in providing couples and marriage counseling and you’re located in Dallas, Texas, you may decide to register

Pretty straightforward, huh? Well, yes and no…

This method works just fine if you’re targeting a specific niche, such as couples. But, what if you’re targeting two or more niches? If you work with couples and children, you’ll either need to create two websites using two different domain names (one targeting couples and one focusing on child counseling) or you’ll need to go with a brandable name. Why? Because a domain name like is way too long to be easily discoverable or memorable.

What about brandable names? How do you come up with a solid brandable domain name?

As I’ve already mentioned, if you’re creating a website for an existing psychotherapy practice or other business, you should use that business’ name as your site’s domain name. To use my mother, Bea Armstrong, as an example, since the business name for her private practice is her name, her website’s domain name is simply “Bea Armstrong” is her brand. While this is completely fine and I often recommend my clients who already have an established practice or brand do something similar, it isn’t the most evocative domain name and it won’t help her sell her website to another practitioner if/when she decides to retire.

But coming up with a really great, brandable domain name takes time and creativity.

I’ve heard more than a few marketers suggest that a name should be an “empty vessel” that can get all its meaning from other forms of branding (think Squidoo or Joomla). Unfortunately, this isn’t the most productive way to think when coming up with a name. Most great website names are connected to the purpose of the website in an indirect and interesting way (think,,,, and even Often they use sensory images or tap into people’s personal experiences in some way. Some names are metaphors. The name Theravive, for example, is taken from “therapy” and “revive” in order to help their site’s visitors understand something about the website’s purpose of connecting people with therapists to “begin a new journey towards a brighter future.”

Whether you want to build a website for a new practice, a blog, or an e-commerce or membership website, there are several things you should remember when going through the process of picking the right domain name:

  1. Brainstorm Top Keywords – Regardless of your decision to go with a discoverable name or a brandable one, it often helps to have five or more terms or phrases in mind that best describe your business, your website, and the domain you’re seeking when you first start generating ideas. Once you have this list, you can start to pair them or add prefixes and suffixes to create good domain ideas. For example, if you’re launching a website for your psychotherapy practice, you might start with words like “counseling,” “therapy,” “treatment,” “recovery,” “relationships,” “solutions,” etc. and then play around until you can find a good match (,, and so on).
  2. Name Your Brand – If you’re setting up a new business, you should consider what URLs are available and choose your brand name accordingly. Your domain name should match your brand and you should always keep your website’s name and your domain name the same or at least as close to each other as possible. Be original, innovative, and exciting when naming your brand, your product or service, and your domain. When someone hears about your domain name for the first time, they should be able to instantly and accurately guess at the type of content that might be found there. Choose domain and brand names that don’t need explanation. Here’s a list of 18 tools that can help you pick a great domain name.
  3. You Don’t Need to Choose a Domain Based Solely on Keywords – While having a domain name that exactly matches a commonly searched for word or phrase can help your search engine rankings, it is not the only – or even the most important – factor when it comes to getting your site to the top of Google. Try to come up with a memorable, brand-related, and available domain name, but don’t obsess over it. And do your best to come up with something unique. Using a unique moniker is a great way to build additional value with your domain name. A “brand” is more than just a combination of words, which is why names like aren’t as compelling as branded names like And remember to keep your domain as short and simple as you can.
  4. Don’t Try to Be Clever – Forget about hard-to-spell, long, or “clever” words or anything too complex, unless you want to make it hard for people to remember your website’s address. Do yourself a favor… Dump the cutesy names and don’t use numbers or hyphens. They won’t help, especially when people tell others about your site by word of mouth. If a domain name requires considerable attention to type correctly, due to spelling, length, or the use of un-memorable words or sounds, you’ve lost a good portion of your branding and marketing value. You don’t want to be the therapist with a terrific website that no one ever talks about because they can’t remember the domain name. As with any business, word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool to drive traffic to your site (and it’s free too!). If your site’s domain is long and difficult to pronounce, people will not remember the name of the site and unless they bookmark the link, they may never return. Similarly, try to avoid acronyms in your domain name. Something along the lines of is often a better bet than Like everything else in marketing, choosing the right domain name is about researching and knowing what your prospective clients and website visitors want. Just because you like a domain name or think it sounds good does not mean your site’s visitors and prospective clients will feel the same. Best practice? An easy to remember name with only one possible spelling.
  5. Choose .COM Available Domains – If you’re not concerned with type-in traffic, branding, or name recognition, you don’t need to worry about this one. But you should! If you’re at all serious about building a successful website over the long-term, you should be worried about all of these elements. As of June 2013, there are 110 million .COM, 15 million .NET and 10 million .ORG domains on the web. If you cannot lay your hands on a .COM domain name, look for a .NET domain, which is the second most commercially popular domain name extension. However, because people are more familiar with the .COM extension and many people still assume that .COM is the only possible choice, it’s always the better option.

Additional Considerations

We’ve already touched on the necessity of making sure your domain name doesn’t violate someone else’s trademark. This is a mistake that isn’t made too often, but can kill a great domain and a great company when it does. (I once used the word “realtor” in a domain name and soon received a cease-and-desist notice from the National Association of Realtors, as the word REALTORĀ® is a registered trademark of theirs.) Be sure your site’s name isn’t infringing on anyone’s copyright by searching before you register your domain.

You should also check to see if there are existing sites based on other spelling variations of the domain name you’re considering. may be available, but may be home to a graphic pornography site. Make sure visitors aren’t walking away with the impression you’re providing something they don’t expect.

Lastly, remember that you can own multiple domain names and point them all to a single domain and website. For example, you could register,, and and have them all point to

Transferring existing websites to new domains is rarely an easy process. You have to inform past and current clients, print new business cards and stationary, update links across the web, and make sure the various pages of your site point to their location at the new domain. Given these hassles, the potential losses that could occur to your site’s search engine rankings when you transition your site to a new domain, and the confusion you may cause current and prospective clients, it should be obvious that it’s much better to get the right domain name right from the start.

Choosing the right domain name for your website is just as important as choosing the right design. You need a rational, strategic plan for choosing your domain name if you want your site to be a success, just as you need a strategic plan to create the practice you desire.

What strategy did you use to come up with the domain name for your site? If you’re just starting out, have you done your branding/domain name homework? If not, it’s never too late to get started!

Don’t forget to let us know your domain name questions by posting a comment below. Better still, let us know how you chose your site’s domain name!

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