A few months ago I launched a quest to find a new dentist, and it was not an easy task. My last dentist, while trying to poke around inside my mouth, informed his assistant that I was a hypersensitive patient (and sent her off to fetch the nitrous oxide). I’m sure that had something to do with the fact that I was maniacally clutching the armrest while burrowing my head into the dental chair. Oh yeah, and my mouth kept closing all by itself every time he lunged at me with a sharp instrument.
A few dental procedures gone wrong had made me wary, if not downright fearful, of dentists. So I need a professional who is compassionate toward patients with dental phobias and anxieties. I’m looking for a dentist with an extra-special skill set.
Since I’m one of those technology-savvy generation Xers and because I am also an internet professional, I launched my search online. Google gave me plenty of options, and I got busy perusing the many dentists within a fifteen-mile radius. Within minutes I had about a dozen potential dentistry websites opened, and I got busy reading through them to see which one would tell me what I wanted to hear: We are sympathetic to your fear of dentists. We won’t hurt you.
I happened across one such dentist early in my search. The text on his site was friendly and comforting. There was even a photo of him. He looked like a nice guy and not at all like the demented dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. But I wanted a list of dentists to choose from. So I kept his site open and continued my search.
A short time later I found another one that looked pretty good. As I started reading through this other guy’s site, I got this weird feeling. Haven’t I read something like this before? Haven’t I just recently (in the past few minutes) read these exact same words in this exact same order?
Two dentists. Same city. Same exact text on both of their websites. Bad for business.
Good Marketing vs. Bad Marketing
I realize that small businesses operate within a budget and sometimes need to take shortcuts. But using generic website copy is never a good idea.
First of all, it was a little creepy. I mean, why would two different dentists have the same exact message? I’m not talking about similarities where one dentist says “Scared of dentists? We understand.” and another says “We understand that you’re scared of dentists.” I’m talking about the exact same copy, down to the periods, commas, and conjunctions.
At one point I had both of these sites open and was clicking back and forth between them, trying to sort it all out. My first concern was that these two dentists had been duped by the same copywriter. I quickly deduced that they had indeed used the same copywriter, but it wasn’t an actual copywriter; it was a copywriting service. Except the copywriting wasn’t a service; it was a product.
The clues led me to an outfit that was selling generic website copy to professionals. Even worse, the professionals were buying it.
Let’s Get Personal
In some situations, discovering duplicate copy on two different websites might not rattle me one bit. I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it if I had been searching for a mechanic or a home inspector, professionals who offer relatively generic services. But I am searching for a dentist. I’m going to let this person medicate me, drill holes in my teeth, and then fill them up with strange substances. He might even pull a tooth, and he’s certainly going to do whatever it is that dentists do to give you a sparkling smile. And if the same text on his site is on several other sites, well, then I know the words do not convey his unique message and don’t represent him specifically. It’s canned text, which renders it meaningless. And for all I know, he might not mean a single word of it.
Now, maybe the cost of losing one prospective patient was worth the savings these two dentists enjoyed by buying canned copy rather than hiring a copywriter. But I doubt I’m the only individual who noticed the duplicate copy, and I also doubt that I’m the only person who was completely turned off by it.
I realize that because I’m professional website copywriter, I have a special way of looking at this situation. And because I don’t sell generic text, one would expect me to find such practices…well, distasteful. But I’m also a customer, a client, and a patient. Especially as a patient with some measure of dental anxiety, I am anything but comforted by this plastic messaging.
When is Generic Acceptable?
Businesses are always trying to find a way to make a buck. I guess someone, somewhere, thought it would be a good idea to write some web content for dentists and then resell that same content over and over. The idea is probably profitable for the person who thought up that scheme. It probably also seemed like a good idea to all of those professionals to whom they sold generic copy.
Some products and services can definitely get away with being generic. Website templates and stock photos are a good example of marketing materials that could be considered generic but are often employed, even by big businesses with large budgets.
But website copy just can’t get away with being generic. There’s a difference between a generic photo used for business and generic words used to speak to your customers. My own reaction was something like, “You don’t care enough about your patients (or your work) to send a more personalized message, and now you expect me to let you inside my mouth with sharp objects?”
Entrepreneurs and professionals need to be cognizant that marketing copy is a direct form of communication. While imagery and design can be powerful, language allows you to speak to your customers clearly and personally. There’s nothing clear or personal about canned text.
Generic Website Copywriting and the SEO Effect
There’s one more consideration that I want to quickly address: SEO (search engine optimization) and duplicate content. Because not only did these two dentists engage in online marketing tactics that have a distinct capacity to discourage (rather than encourage) new patients, this generic copywriting strategy could also have a detrimental effect on their search engine traffic.
Most SEO specialists agree that duplicate content across different websites is frowned upon by search engines. In other words, if a search engine sees that two sites are using the exact same copy, they both lose points and fall back on the search engine results page. This means that in addition to scaring off prospective clients, the copy that these two dentists had used could be hindering the amount of traffic they attract to their websites from search engines. That means fewer visitors and patients.
Like I said, generic website copy is bad for business.
I’m sure that the two dentists have successfully brought in new patients from their websites. But they’ll never know how many potential patients they have lost.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.