"Web rings" are basically a linked collection of Web sites with a common theme, industry or product business. The idea behind them: Banding together an assortment of smaller merchants or services can help the entire group compete more effectively online and build Web traffic.
For very small businesses in particular, they offer a cheap or free way to add advertising and marketing efforts.
To a potential customer browsing the Internet, a Web ring organizes sites of interest to simplify and target a buying search.
Example: The well-run Web ring OutdoorRings, at www.outdoorrings.com, brings together providers of outdoor-
related products, services and interests, such as hunting, fishing, biking, RVs and camping.
How they work: The rings provide a common navigation device that makes it easier to move among the Web ring members. All members must adhere to the graphical and HTML specifications of the so-called "ringmaster," or site manager.
You'll need to fill out a short form listing the address of your home page, its title and a brief description and keywords. You choose a password and submit your data for registration. Both membership and visits are free. Another option: If there isn't an existing Web ring that matches your business, you can start your own.
Potential downsides: While Web rings provide a cheap tool to drive traffic to your site, their long-term success depends largely on the ringmaster's experience and the site's age. Ask about both before you sign up.
Also, find out how the ring either accepts or rejects new applicants. You want an association with professional businesses and industry enthusiasts, not fly-by-nights. And make sure the ring you're targeting is listed with Web ring directories and major search engines.
Business Web rings
To view available Web rings, go to http://dir.webring.com and click on "business/finance" or "small business" and then on your industry-specific subject links. The site currently maintains more than 49,000 different rings that generate 26 million hits a month.