When people click on a link to your website, does your homepage appear almost instantly in their browser window? Or do they have to wait while large graphic files, video, Flash, or ads load? 

If your site doesn't load quickly, now is the time to start doing something about it. A team of Google Chrome developers led by speed team leader Addy Osmani, have put website owners everywhere on notice: Chrome may start warning its users when they click on slow-loading webpages. Osmani's website (which loads very quickly) explains that "trying to make the Web fast" is his team's mission. The speed team's blog post was timed to coincide with Google's announcing the plan at its Chrome Dev Summit in San Francisco on Monday. 

The blog post explains:

"We have all visited webpages we thought would load fast, only to be met by an experience that could have been better. We think the Web can do better and want to help users understand when a site may load slowly, while rewarding sites delivering fast experiences."

Google's plan to reward sites that deliver "fast experiences" has a flip side, of course: Punishing sites that deliver slow experiences. The team is very careful to say they haven't decided when, how, or even whether to label pages that are "authored in a way that makes them slow generally." But the carefully coordinated blog post and announcement at the Chrome Dev Summit makes it appear likely that Chrome will begin some sort of labeling for slow websites sometime in the not-too-distant future. Samples provided in the blog post include a red warning triangle with an exclamation point in it next to the phrase, "Usually loads slow." Another sample shows a green progress bar across the top of the page, denoting a fast-loading site. Presumably, slower-loading sites might have a yellow or red progress bar.

Take it as a wake-up call.

If you haven't refreshed or reviewed your website recently, or if you don't know enough about the size of graphics files it uses or whether its moving images run on Flash or HTML5, now is the time to find out. You shouldn't need Google to tell you that a slow-loading or out-of-date website can put you at a disadvantage to competitors whose websites load more quickly, especially if those websites are more mobile-friendly than yours. A website is the primary means by which most customers and prospective customers will interact with your website. If you advertise online, you're paying each time someone clicks on a link to your site. If that prospective customer gets bored with waiting and clicks away--or clicks away because of a Chrome warning that your site load slowly--you've wasted that money.

If your site doesn't load quickly enough, Google doesn't just want to punish you with a warning label, it wants to help, too. To that end, the company provides a tool that will analyze your website's loading speed on both desktop computers and mobile devices and offer some practical suggestions for how to improve it. In fact, you can enter any website into the tool, which means you can compare your site's loading speed with other sites in your industry. And Google also offers some best practices for developers who want to build faster websites.

Yes, you may love that huge graphic or video that first welcomes visitors to your homepage and shows off your brand. You may be attached to the apps that help you gather information about them, or the ads that help your site pay its own way. But all those things may be slowing down your site enough to drive customers away. And if waiting for your site to load hasn't put them off so far, a slow label in Chrome might just be the nudge that makes them close the page and go elsewhere.