It has been another week of coincidences making me think of what I ought to write about today. Firstly, I was preparing the documentation for the masterclass I am presenting with my colleague Derek Arden when he suggested I use a stronger title for one of the items. The next day, I was asked by a client to take a look at a report they had prepared, and I too suggested an alternative title to the one they had chosen. Then, yesterday, I read a report about web page titles and their influence on click-through rates. Titles have been a big thing this week…!

Indeed, they should be a “big thing” every week. The titles used in your web content, on printed documents and even as the subject lines for your email, have a significance that cannot be understated. It is the title that matters a great deal. Indeed, you can see this in the recent trend in social media, where titles are absent. You cannot have a “headline” on Twitter or Facebook, for instance. However, what catches attention is a good image on social media. Nowadays, many of those images are actually headlines – graphical wording produced by handy services such as Canva.

Psychological studies show that we see the words on a page before we notice the images. The pictures grab our attention and frame our thinking, but we have already “clocked” the words, and they are what helps us decide whether to read on.

The latest study that came my way this week shows that you can gain a significant increase in readership of your website even if you do not achieve a higher ranking on a search engine. Millions of people are trying to be “Number One on Google”, yet with the right title, you can get more visitors even if you are further down the search results page.

None of this should be much of a surprise. After all, you run your eyes down your email inbox glazing over the boring email subject lines, only pausing over those really stimulating headings.

Newspaper editors have known about this for years. About 20% of all newspaper sales are from “promiscuous buyers” – people who do not stick to the same newspaper each day but are willing to swap from day-to-day depending on the front page headline. Enticing that 20% is what the banner headlines are about. Get that headline right, and a newspaper can fill its coffers with tons of extra cash that day. That’s why the top tabloids spend more time and money on the front page headline than it costs them to produce the entire first few pages. The headline is so important, it is a top priority.

So, the question for us as web content producers is how much of our time and effort do we devote to the title? Do you test your titles using split-tests? You can do this easily on a WordPress site, for instance, using several headline testing systems. These can work out which headline performs the best and then use that, consigning weaker headlines to the bin. Or you can test your headlines in advance. You can use the Advanced Marketing Institute’s headline analyzer, or you can try this tool from the advertising company, Sharethrough. If you have an account with CoSchedule, the content planning system – or you want to sign up for a free one – then you can use their headline analyzer. You are not short of tools in helping to get headlines right.

Here, though are some tips from my past life as a newspaper headline writer. Firstly, get some action in your headline; passive headlines don’t entice readers. Secondly, make the headline human; either include a person by name, a collective noun for a group of people or involve the reader directly. Thirdly, use emotion; emotive words make people want to read on.

You can gain more traffic on your website if your pages have the right titles (headlines) that make people want to read more. You don’t need to try crafty SEO tricks or get agencies to gain you loads of links. All you need are better headlines.

And if you need inspiration how about this from The Sun’s sports pages in 2000, when Celtic lost 3-1 to Inverness Caledonian Thistle (known affectionately as “Caley”). You have to sing this headline to a well-known tune from Mary Poppins: “Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious”.