A webring in general is a collection of websites from around the Internet joined together in a circular structure. When used to improve search engine rankings, webrings can be considered a search engine optimization technique.
To be a part of the webring, each site has a common navigation bar; it contains links to the previous and next site. By clicking next (or previous) repeatedly, the surfer will eventually reach the site they started at; this is the origin of the term webring. However, the click-through route around the ring is usually supplemented by a central site with links to all member-sites; this prevents the ring from breaking completely if a member site goes offline.
In 1998 Starseed was acquired by GeoCities, who made no major changes to the system. Just a few months later, in early 1999, Yahoo! bought GeoCities, and eighteen months after the acquisition, on September 5, 2000, Yahoo! unveiled a fully-overhauled WebRing, known as Yahoo! WebRing. Although Yahoo!'s implementation was meant to streamline the way the rings were managed and provide a more consistent interface for all rings, many of these changes were unpopular with ringmasters accustomed to the older system which gave them more flexibility.
On April 15 2001, Yahoo! pulled their support of WebRing, leaving it in the hands of one technician from the original WebRing, Timothy Killeen. He unveiled a WebRing free of Yahoo! influence on October 12, 2001. In the years since this change, many of the features which had been stripped by Yahoo!, particularly customization options, were reimplemented into the WebRing system.
On September 26 2006, Webring Inc. announced a new WebRing Premium Membership Program. They have separated memberships into two types, WebRing 1.0 and WebRing 2.0. Sites that are part of WebRing 1.0 will be limited to 50 webrings per URL. Existing 1.0 members can maintain more than 50, but can not add more. In conjunction with the premium membership program, WebRing introduced an affiliate program, in which webmasters earn money when others join webrings from their site; they earn an additional payment if the new member purchases a premium membership.
In early October 2007, Webring was granted a trademark on "Webring" from the USA Trademark office. Also in that month, Yahoo's long partnership ended as Webring ownership repurchased Webring stock held by Yahoo, marking the first time since the late 1990s that Webring was again privately held.
A similar website is RingSurf.com, which uses the term 'Net Rings'. The site first appeared in the Internet Archive in June 1998.
Some have derived the web ring system to create a viral marketing system.