Google is constantly refining how it decides website rankings. The search giant continually tests new products, systems and ways of operating.
You might have seen recently that it introduced a 'mobile friendly' label to identify websites that display properly on mobile devices. It's also started prioritising these sites in mobile search results.
Now a new test suggests that slow websites could be penalised.
Google's red slow label
Earlier this year, a researcher stumbled upon what looked to be Google testing a new, red 'Slow' label next to certain websites on its results pages. And, more recently, a 'Slow to load' warning was spotted next to video content.
Although there's been no official word on this from Google, it's likely this is an early test for a new feature that could shake up search rankings.
And it would make sense. Google has long talked about the value it places on websites that load quickly, and it's well known that users get impatient when sites are slow to load.
The company has offered advice on how to improve your website's speed for quite a while, and load speed has affected rankings (in a minor way) since 2010.
This new red warning badge could be the push businesses need to review their website speed and take any necessary steps to improve.
How to test your website speed
Before you can work to speed up your website, it's a good idea to establish just how fast it is compared to other sites.
There are a number of tools to analyse your current site speed, set a benchmark, and look at ways in which you can improve:
If you already have Google Analytics on your site, you may have stumbled across the site speed reports, under the Behaviour heading. They provide good real-world results, but can take a while to update after you've made changes. Also, they may not provide enough data for small websites.
Google's PageSpeed Insights tests the desktop and the mobile versions of your website, scoring them out of 100. If you get 85 or above then that's very good. This is a good way to get an overview and recommendations to fix certain issues.
GTmetrix combines Google's PageSpeed with Yahoo's YSlow insight tool. This gives you a good benchmark and helps to identify bottlenecks in performance. This tool also provides more information about server speed, page load times, page size and more.
Between them, these three tools will give you a good understanding of how fast your website is. They should also be able to indicate where you should concentrate your efforts to see the best improvements.
If you're not technically minded, you might need to work with your website developer or hosting company to make many of the suggested improvements. But with these tools, you'll know where you stand - and you'll be able to avoid any red 'slow' labels in future.
(Don't forget, you can enter your competitors' website addresses into some of these tools, too, giving you a benchmark against their sites.)
© Nick Pinson, director at iWeb Solutions