This post has been updated - here's a more recent version: http://www.noisylittlemonkey.com/blog/what-is-a-top-level-domain-tld/
Each domain name consists of two parts - the ‘Mid Level Domain’ (MLD), and the ‘Top Level Domain’ (TLD). The Mid Level Domain is the ‘noosylittlemonkey’ in noisylittlemonkey.com, the ‘amazon’ in amazon.co.uk. This part of the domain name can consist of up to 63 characters in .com, .net, or .org domains. Only letters, numbers, or hyphens are permitted; no underscores, exclamation marks or full stops. The Top Level Domain refers to the .com, .net, or .org part of the web address. There are also country code Top Level Domains (ccTLD's) such as .uk for United Kingdom, .fr for France, or .us for the United States. In most cases, you will need to reside in that particular country if you wish to purchase a ccTLD.
Choosing The Right Domain Name For Your Business
Choosing the right domain name can be critical to the success of a website. Most Internet users remember websites by their domain names; your domain name can also affect the anchor text of inbound links; and your ranking in search engines.
Keyword or Branding?
Many of the most successful sites do not use keyword domains. These online businesses have chosen to go with a completely original domain, and brand it. A few examples are Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, Monster, and eBay. It's not that these large corporations don't know about search engine optimization; it's just that they are putting more emphasis on creating a brand name around their business.
A keyword domain is a domain chosen to take advantage of search engine traffic. By choosing a domain that matches a keyword search, we are able to rank higher for targeted keywords and thereby benefit from added traffic and more potential for sales. For example, if you were a Bristol estate agent, you might want to target the search phrase Bristol Estate Agency by choosing the domain Bristol-Estate-Agency.co.uk. Looking through the Bristol yellow pages, many estate agents have websites, but most do not target any specific keywords. It appears most realtors are simply naming websites after themselves; e.g., www.cjhole.co.uk and www.taylorsestateagents.co.uk who won’t be benefiting from a lot of free search engine traffic.
Whether you choose a brandable domain or a keyword domain is a choice you must make, and a choice you should make in accordance with your business plan. If you have a large offline advertising budget and the budget necessary to brand your organization, I'd recommend a brandable domain. If, on the other hand, you're working on a shoe-string budget, choose a keyword domain and let the search engines bring the customers to you.
Don’t forget to ask friends, family and customers what they think of your proposed domain name choices.... they’ll really help you get a different perspective.
If you want to search domains this site has a really good tool: www.freeparking.co.uk
If you want more advice – call 01173 270 171 or contact Noisy Little Monkey.