5 Sure-Fire Sources for Headline Inspiration

fresh ideas sign

Some days headlines are a breeze to write. The perfect words flow from brain to page in a flash of brilliance.

But copywriting isn’t always that way, and some days you’re staring at that blank space where a killer headline should be, with no idea how to move forward.

It can be intimidating, frustrating, and a little bit humbling . . . and worst of all it can grind your projects to a halt.

It doesn’t have to be that way — as long as you have a few sources of headline inspiration at your disposal.

Here are a few places you can go to kick-start the headline-generating part of your brain any time you need it.

The Digg front page

While most Digg traffic is geared toward content consumers, the front page is a goldmine for content producers. Every hour of every day, people are voting on the headlines that catch their attention. Not stories, but headlines (it’s well known that many Digg users vote based on article titles and descriptions without ever actually reading the stories).

When you’re feeling stuck — or just hungering for a little swipe copy — take a look at the Digg front page and browse the most popular entries, and you might get your creative juices flowing faster than you think.

Magazine covers

Online and direct response marketers aren’t the only ones getting paid to write headlines. There are people getting paid good money every day to carefully craft headlines that jump off of the newsstand and evoke that “must-read” response from you in a flash.

When you’re in a bind, take a walk to the corner store and glance at the magazine rack. Better yet, grab a notebook and head to the library, where they’ll have bound copies of print magazines going back for years. A few tweaks and replaced words here and there and you’ll have all the headlines you’ll need for a long time.

In-magazine ads

Ignore the full-color glossy ads for cars, perfumes and television shows that most magazines are full of and search for the direct-response-style ads. While glossy ads are often designed to impress people or win awards, direct-response advertisements are carefully fine-tuned to make sales.

You may have developed the habit of tuning out ads for whimsical collector’s plates, limited edition gold coins or collectible scale models, but get the headlines for these products back on your radar.

Remember, good money is spent honing these headlines into effective sales tools — don’t pass up your chance to educate yourself on somebody else’s dime.

Your own inbox

It’s pretty likely that you’re subscribed to more than a few newsletters, most of which you’ve come to ignore as time passes. But every so often a promotion or newsletter hits your inbox and you’re intrigued enough to open it. That’s your signal to save that email in your own personal swipe file.

Think about it — if you were tempted to open that email, it’s a good chance that others are as well. Create a place in your inbox to store emails that compelled you to click, and you’ll have an ongoing source of material to draw from.

That link to the left

If you haven’t read through Copyblogger’s extensive guide to writing magnetic headlines, then you should. From 9 Proven Headline Formulas That Sell Like Crazy to The Cheater’s Guide to Writing Great Headlines, you’ll find all the inspiration you need to hand-craft your own winning headlines, again and again and again.

Just scroll up and look for the Writing Headlines link on the left. And don’t forget to read through the other resource categories there. You’ll find blog posts with proven headlines that have been clicked on thousands of times.

Where do you go to find inspiration?

When you’re at a loss for words, how do you fill up your own headline-writing gas tank? Take 30 seconds right now and add your favorite place to get your muse on and learn from the comments of others.

About the Author: Dave Navarro is the product launch coach of choice for online marketers and has a special message for Copyblogger readers.

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Comments

  1. I also find Twitter to be a great source of headline inspiration. Pay attention to tweets with links you feel compelled to click. I actually make a “swipe file” of awesome tweets that MADE ME click their links, because of the copy before it.

    BTW… I am just about to publish a blog post about Copyblogger. I’ll use this post as an example of the high quality of writing to be found here. :)

  2. Those are some great resources. A couple I didn’t even think about. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks.

  3. This is a really fantastic post! We should all have lots of places & opportunities to seek out inspiration at our fingertips. For me it’s Google Reader & Twitter.

    There are endless amounts of inspiration just waiting to be discovered – not only on the web but even in life. If we just stop to “smell the roses” every now & then, we will see that inspiration is everywhere waiting to be discovered.

    Thanks for this post & the reminder!

    Cheers!

    -Dena
    Evolution

  4. Excellent tips, thanks Dave!

    I have to confess that when I’m short on inspiration, I come over to Copyblogger and go down the “popular articles” list in the sidebar. Never fails…

    Like you, I’ve found magazines a fantastic source – I do a bit of childminding for a woman who’s a magazine editor, and her house has a plentiful supply of back issues of several glossy mags.

  5. How about a poetry book? I find that creative similes and metaphors are sure fire attention grabbers. Pull out your inner poet. One of my personal favorites that I recently came up with was “How to Draw People in Like a Dust Bunny to a Vacuum Cleaner”

  6. Agreed that this is an awesome list!

    Now and again I spend a few hours at Barnes & Nobles going through the magazines. I try to pick up ones that are relevant to the audience of projects I’m currently working on. Not only is it fun to pick up a new magazine, its very informative on many levels.

    I appreciate the reminder to think about using these for inspiration both online and off!

  7. Dave, rock this into your daily: http://www.hardtofindads.com/home

    :)
    Shane

  8. Good stuff Dave, congrats on a great post! Another source for folks might be PPC ads for competitive search terms, and a quick way to know what is getting CTRs for a given market.

    Keep it coming!

  9. Here’s a fun drill: When you’re walking down the driveway to pick up the morning paper (assuming you still get one!), think about a big news or sports story that’s sure to be reported and see if you can come up with a great headline–and then see if it’s better than the actual one in the paper.

  10. Thanks for a excellent writeup.

    @Cheryl Andonian aka Momblebee – Poetry books are not very common in every house.

    I find twitter as the best inspiration for me. But your sources are worth noticing. I will use probably use Digg for my next blogpost. Sometimes I do get stuck up in writer’s block.

  11. Great suggestions!

    ANOTHER place for headline inspiration? Two simple words: “HOW TO…”

    Whenever I get stuck, I write those two words and even though my final headline may not begin with “How to”, just brainstorming this way forces you to focus on what your article or product is really about and what problem you are really solving.

  12. Three more ideas:

    1) Write down “this is a story about” then finish the sentence. When you’re done, remove the first phrase.

    2) Banner ad headlines

    3) Sponsored links/adwords headlines

  13. Good old fashion books I get from the library have been a good source of inspiration for me.

    Wishing you a scent-sational day!
    Patty Reiser

  14. You can find some good headline material by searching the table of contents of books related to your industry. After entering the topic into the search box on Amazon.com, click the “Search inside this book” link under the cover image. Then select “Table of Contents.”

    This strategy doesn’t always work for every industry, but you’ll occasionally find some hidden nuggets of headline gold.

  15. We always admire your way of writing for the headlines. These are always attractive and raise our curiosity to that level which forced us to click and see.

    @ Jodi

    Yes we read this that you should always delete your first phase.

  16. Twitter works for me (as for many other readers). Book table of contents and sub-headings are also a great source. I also find that talking to friends and co-workers gives me great headline ideas. I even flat out tell them I am stuck and need a good title for my next post.

  17. Great tips esp of digg… These days I am using digg a lot and yes I never read the content.. only headlines and there you go. I am just getting used to digg and making new friends.

  18. Other sites in my niche tend to provide really good ideals for future articles and headlines for me.

  19. I’m a big fan of the Cosmo headline technique. Have picked up some great post titles that way.

  20. My experience has been that most often, when headlines are a breeze to write, it’s because the topic of the article naturally flows into a simple and great headline.

    For example, if you’re writing a list post, it’s very easy to craft a catchy headline.

    I find the subject of the post more than anything else determines how hard or easy it is to come up with a gangbuster headline.

    In that case, the real skill comes in not when you’re writing about “7 creative and effective ways to save money,” but when your article demands real creativity and tactician to generate a killer headline for a subject that doesn’t easily lend itself to it.

  21. I actually listen to the words being spoken around me on the streets, in the buses, at cafes. They all tend to reflect an overall shared mood. During a recession, for example, people use words like retract, slump, etc. I pull energy (read: widespread interest) to help formulate not only headlines, but what I write.

  22. Everything mentioned above is what I use at some point or another. Quality write up by the way. I tend to follow Twitter and Jimmyr (dot com).

    -Mig

  23. That’s a smart strategy, Lydia. The more you listen, the more effectively you can communicate. The choice of word can have tremendous power.

  24. Great post! Thanks for sharing these great ideas with us. They seem simple, but really they’re pretty brilliant!

  25. @Paul –
    A swipe file of Twitter headlines? Great idea.

    @Shane Arthur –
    Thanks for the link – looks like some good stuff there (bookmarked).

    @Travis –
    PPC ads … intriguing. Just type in keywords and let Google do the heavy lifting for you? :-)

    @Lone Wolf –
    Good tip on getting clarity for your message – thanks.

    @Jodi –
    I like the “Sponsored Links” idea – another chance for Google to do your homework for you …

    @All –
    Wow, fantastic comments, everyone. I really appreciate you sharing your inspiration tips with the rest of us.

  26. As someone learning to better craft must-read-rest-of-the-article type headlines, there are some fantastic resources outlined in this post and in the comments. Thanks all!

    I also use the headlines of other blogs as inspiration (even if it’s not entirely related to my topic). If the headline motivates me enough to click through then I think about how I could use a similar headline for one of my own posts.

  27. Always love you fresh ideas. Thanks for the reminder to open my eyes and look at all the headlines that bombard me on a daily basis – so many, ya can’t see the forest for the trees.

  28. I recently found great headlines at popular online magazines\Blogs such as Gizmodo, Engadget …. did you see the story about the wooden helicopter?

  29. Top article, Dave! I dug it. As a specialist job ad (recruitment advertisement) copywriter, I spent 24 years coming up with headlines for $5,000 press ads that just HAD to work.

    Two of my most effective strategies were to:

    1. Write the headline last, once I was fully conversant with the body copy.

    2. Let the headline incubate in my subconscious while I slept.

    In all that time, I never got stumped. Thanks for the learning! Best regards, Paul. :)

  30. The first place to go for headline inspiration is the customer. Figure out what they are buying, why they are buying it and what problem it solves for them. That will tell you what your headline needs to be. The problem with most lousy headlines is they try to interrupt with something the customer cares nothing about.

  31. I wonder, if as writer, you feel like you are “selling out” if you use retreaded headlines. I liked one of the commenters above who mentioned utilizing poetry.

  32. I often find inspiration in good fiction or poetry. It’s not a direct and obvious path to a headline, but it does expose you to beautifully combined words.

  33. Thanks, sometimes the headlines and that first sentence are the most difficult for me. Great blog post!
    Jess Graham
    eWriters

  34. @Carl, every writer will see it differently, but for me, not availing myself of legitimate, ethical ways to get my work read would be selling it short. Enticing 10,000 people to read my work is better than enticing 100. Enticing a million is even better.

    Headlines for me are sort of like wrapping paper. They’re not the main event–the gift. They’re just the outside aspect that makes the gift more appealing.

    But each of us has to make the call for ourselves, of course.

  35. Brilliant article Dave!.!
    What I notice though when looking for inspiration and possible swipe copy is that nobody mentions the tabloids…

    I wonder why…?!!

    I agree with comment 29 and 34…

  36. I didn’t even think about looking at other material in this manner. Great tip! :) thank you.

  37. @Navjot Singh
    I guess I should have said poetry, not poetry books. You can find poetry online, at the library and bookstores, you know, heck you can even write poetry yourself. My point is that the art of writing shouldn’t be completely lost to the science and SEO of writing. How to Build…, How to Gain…, How Twitter…, How LinkedIn…5 Ways to…, It all gets a little boring and tiresome after a while. Creativity is a good thing.

  38. I often run into issues with coming up with blog topics. Some come easy, some I must strain to get onto the blog. I feel that if you have other sites that interest you as far as content goes, you can often find content easily. Good article!

  39. The headline/title of your article/post is extremely important. You honestly have to draw the reader’s attention with those few words and keep it with the first few sentences.

    A headline can either be the path to your oasis or the nail in your coffin.

    Thanks for the tips

  40. A really good left-field post. I’m looking forward to trialling and testing some of these – particulalry the Digg one.

  41. Excellent article. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to your site, so it was nice to see your guest post.

    But, what really caught my attention was your “special message” to copyblogger readers. I couldn’t help but click.

    I like your new twist on the same-old-same-old.

  42. As simplistic as it sounds my takeaway from your article is look around. Usually, when I need a headline or inspiration I look inside. (damn introverts!) I need to look out more, alot more.

    thanks for an important article (for me)

  43. All are great sources, Dave. Come to think of it, I haven’t really kept all those emails with good subject lines…kinda regret it, but would do it starting today, thanks to your suggestion.

  44. For the past few days, mine would come from the news that struck me the most. From politics to trivia to movie reviews to almost anything under the sun.

  45. A lot of times I will put a new twist on a cliche to make it my own (headline).

  46. I like to use my Google Feed Reader and Digg for inspiration. But there are even times where just watching the television helps gather some inspiration.

  47. Headlines inspiration? The titles of books on any bookshelf, preferably in a store somewhere. Or from books opened at random. Do this three or five times and writer’s block evaporates.

  48. MSN.com has short headlines so enticing that, most days, I end up clicking on one of them and reading something I ought not be wasting time reading.

  49. This is a fantastic reminder! I have been neglecting my blog, and when that happens, it’s generally for lack of inspiration on things to write about. Your 5 quick tips here are a great suggestion on where to come up with not only headline inspiration but spin-off ideas on things to blog about.

  50. Thanks for the useful tips.
    Finding a great headline can make so much difference to any copy we’re writing

  51. Great article with awesome ideas!!! I will certainly be digging for some ideas ;)

    Another idea I use I ALWAYS carry a a moleskin with me. You can purchase them at
    any book store and they fit right in your back pocket

    What is a moleskin? This is what the great philosophers of old used to write down
    their thoughts

    If you don’t find any ideas for good head lines, you at least look wise

    Thank you for your contribution,
    Jeff Faldalen
    The Possibility Coach