This post relates to an incident that happened about four years ago when I lost a lot of respect for a fellow entrepreneur.
Why am I writing about it now?
First, I never felt like I was ever able to get some of the stuff off my chest and say my piece (for reasons I will explain below).
Second, I think this story has valuable lessons that can help out future entrepreneurs and perhaps ignite a discussion on entrepreneur ethics.
So let’s jump in.
How it all started
I started UponArriving back in 2014 because I had a passion for travel that could not be contained to traveling a few weekends here and there or a couple of weeks a year.
I needed travel to be my lifestyle, not my hobby.
I was drawn to the practical side of travel. Sharing my travel hiccups and other experiences was something that I just loved to do and still do love today.
From the time I began blogging in October 2014 to today in 2023, I never had a single issue with anyone in this industry.
I’ve done some partnerships, collaborations, received links, sent links to others but never had a single quibble.
Except for one instance in 2019.
But before jumping into that, let’s get back to the blogging journey for a second.
From 2016 to 2018, I saw some success with blogging but it was never consistent. I just didn’t understand what was working and not working.
A large part of that was the fact that I was working as a full-time attorney and often struggling to make enough time to generate content, much less gain an understanding of SEO strategy.
For those who don’t know, “SEO” is the skill of learning what people are searching for and finding ways to get them to arrive on your website.
At the end of 2017, it got to the point where because the traffic was so inconsistent I knew I needed to do something different if I wanted this to become my full-time gig.
So I spent a few weeks getting into the basics of SEO and decided that this is what I needed to learn for the blog to thrive.
I remember telling my husband that if this whole SEO thing didn’t work, I was just going to give up any hopes of monetizing the website.
And I meant it.
So that began a year where I continued to blog any chance I got. A couple of hours before the firm opened, during lunchtime, and in my evenings.
Soon, things started to come together.
I started off my SEO strategy finding random keywords and writing about those.
I had some success with this but I quickly realized I was going to need a more systematic approach to really increase traffic.
So I researched and found the strategy of going for “silo content.”
Silo content means slightly different things for different people but for me it meant content that had the following characteristics:
- High search volume – lots of people searching for the term on Google
- Low difficulty – easier to rank for
- Template based – once you write one article, you can easily do many more on the same topic
An example of a silo article would be writing about United Airlines baggage fees. Once you write about United, then you can write about Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, etc.
Basically, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you write an article, so even though the topics can be dull, it’s very efficient.
To find my silo content, I used one of the leading SEO softwares and output several spreadsheets with tens of thousands of keywords that I would spend weeks poring over to find silo opportunities.
Any experienced SEO can relate to this.
I found about 15 different silos and then decided to immediately get to work writing out the content.
I started grinding these out every morning and usually finishing a post during my lunch break at the firm.
At this point, my SEO strategy was really kicking off and traffic was booming (by my humble standards, at least).
When things popped off
Then in February, 2019, I got an email from someone who had a website in the same industry.
Initially, I thought this person wanted to partner but when I opened the email I saw that they were accusing me of copying their content!
To say that I was shocked would be putting it extremely mildly.
As someone who has authored 99% of the content on this website, this was the ultimate insult.
But it also hit me way harder because of what was around the corner for me.
I had been dealing with a neurological issue for a couple of years that had recently gotten worse.
To try to improve my situation, I opted for an experimental brain treatment — the kind of procedure that keeps you up at night just thinking about it.
The upcoming treatment had me on edge for quite a while and I was only a few days away from flying out to get this procedure done when this email came out of the blue.
(I mention this mostly because it explains why I never addressed the situation at the time — I was more concerned about how many days I had left on this planet.)
But back to the email….
Completely dumbfounded by this email, I immediately did some quick research with my SEO tool and I found that the similarities I had with this website were the similarities from targeting the same silo topics.
In other words, the overlap we had in content had everything to do with us both doing well established SEO practices.
So this person was basically saying, “hey, you, stop doing proven SEO strategies because they are causing you to compete with me.”
After I responded to the email and explained the mechanics behind my SEO strategy, the accuser apologized and accepted that this was just a coincidence.
But the damage was done. And the respect had been lost.
I felt like this person was more out of line than a two-year old’s crayon skills but I never got to fully express just how absurd their position was. Not to them or to anyone.
But now, I feel like it’s the right time for me to finally get this stuff off my chest and move on for good.
I’ve chosen to keep this person anonymous because I’m not interested in reigniting a conflict and the goal of this article is not to put a stain on this person’s digital footprint.
But I still want to break down some of that email exchange that we had to show just how ridiculous this person was being and why I lost so much respect for them as an entrepreneur.
I sincerely hope that by talking about the situation, I’m able to shed light on how we as entrepreneurs should conduct ourselves as we pursue our goals and dreams.
Breaking down this email
I’d love to break down the entire email sent but it would take too long for me to address all of the ridiculousness so I’m just going to focus on the main points (which is still a considerable amount of ridiculousness).
The main assertion made by my accuser
This person alleged they would post an article to their website (or more accurately pay someone to write a post) and then would later see that same article/topic on my website weeks later or even sooner.
Let me explain to you how absurd this statement was.
First, I never, ever monitored their website.
I found it way too stressful to monitor competitor websites because I would constantly see other websites publish content on topics that I had already written about and it would put me in this competitive frenzy.
At the time, I was also very big into Gary Vaynerchuk and adopted the philosophy of having tunnel vision and just not even thinking about your competitors.
It’s a strategy that has worked very well for me and worked wonders for my mental health. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, when I saw this groundless assertion in the email, it immediately clicked that this person was full of BS and borderline delusional.
Also, as I mentioned above, the overlap that we had on our website’s content was almost entirely overlap related to the silo articles.
So for example, I would write about Delta baggage fees and then would write about United Airlines baggage fees. So would they.
This is what really doesn’t make sense when you realize how this would play out practically.
This person was basically saying that if I wrote an article about Delta baggage fees I was such a dimwit that I would have to wait until I saw their website publish an article on United baggage fees before it would occur to me that such a thing was possible.
That’s a comically out-of-touch position to hold.
Finally, from an SEO standpoint it would not make sense for me to follow the lead of a higher domain authority website.
This website had much more domain authority than I did because they invested a lot of money in backlinking from the beginning.
Typically, backlinking means doing email outreach or paying someone to do it for you. There’s no telling how much money this website had invested in backlinking but I know they had been hitting it hard because this person’s
minions worker bees had sent me several emails asking me to link to them (I never did).
But here’s why all this matters: if a website has much higher domain authority than you and they write about a specific topic, that topic is now going to be harder for you to get traffic for because now that keyword is more competitive.
It would not make sense for a lower domain authority website like mine to follow the lead of a higher domain authority because each time you publish something after them, you’ve just chosen a keyword that is now harder to rank for.
It would be like someone striving to get through airport security the quickest but always joining the longest line on purpose (i.e., choosing the path of most resistance).
Another related assertion was that I had similar titles or headlines for the blog posts.
This is even more ridiculous than what is above.
When it comes to SEO optimized titles there are only a few standard practices that pretty much everyone follows.
- main keyword goes to the left
- use a modifier like ultimate guide, essential steps, etc.
- use a number, preferably an odd number
- use parentheses, brackets, and years
- place value, benefit in title
- insert related keywords (but don’t keyword stuff)
There are other things you can do but this is the essential criteria. It’s also a criteria that you would find widespread across the web on thousands and thousands of websites.
Anybody with a shred of SEO experience would know that the titles I was using were your basic SEO optimized titles.
So unless this person invented SEO or CTR optimization (which I don’t believe was the case), they simply did not have a valid claim.
Again, this was just another example of a bigger brand trying to get a smaller player to stop doing established SEO practices to limit competition. Pretty disgraceful conduct.
And you might be wondering, how did this person supposedly become so familiar with my website’s posting schedule in the first place?
Well, they admitted that they had been monitoring my website for “months and months.”
In other words, this person running a corporation that is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars is regularly stalking the website of a solo, part-time blogger who is posting articles on his lunch break….
I mean, we are all free to choose how we spend our time but… really?
There’s probably 100+ of them.
The next thing this person claimed (or perhaps threatened) was that they probably had 100+ examples that they could provide with titles and publish dates if needed to prove their claim.
There are a few things to say about this.
First, in this type of context anytime someone says they have “100+” of anything they are usually full of s***.
I can tell you from my legal experience that there is a huge difference between threatening to show something and actually showing it.
Often people are just bluffing but in some cases they may legitimately think they have the evidence to support their claim even when they have nothing of the sort.
But the biggest reason why this is BS is the following:
How could you assert that someone has been copying you and that you have 100+ examples of the alleged acts and then when challenged you immediately fold like a lawn chair, apologize, and admit that this was just all a coincidence?
I’m sorry, but if I have the audacity to accuse someone of something as serious as this, I’m also going to come with a long line-up of irrefutable facts to support that assertion.
The fact that this person immediately renounced their claim that was supposedly supported by scores of examples was proof to me that they had nothing except hurt feelings.
Not easy to do
They also had this gem of a statement.
“Trust me….I totally get it. It’s not easy (at all) to get presence in this market and to launch a blog.”
First, can you get any more patronizing than that?
Second, it actually was kind of easy for me.
Admittedly, it took me a couple of years to get up to speed on solid SEO strategies (which was hard) but once I did, it was just a matter of having the work ethic to knock out one or two articles per day.
But this person talks as if I were in the process of launching my blog.
First, UponArriving had been around since 2014. This was 2019.
More importantly, I never “launched” UponArriving.
It grew organically and out of my passion for travel and helping people navigate their own travels.
This highlights a fundamental difference that is one of the major points of this article.
There’s a big difference between someone starting a blog out of a passion for that niche and someone coming in to that space driven mostly with commercial intent.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with starting a blog to make money. I have three other blogs in different industries and two of them fall largely into that money making category.
But there are a few things to note.
I started UponArriving because I was passionate about travel and wrote 99% of my content and never relied on any kind of capital investments or contributions. It was entirely built by blood, sweat, tears, and typos.
If you were to look at this person’s site it would be very clear that they started off with a commercial intent and were very well resourced. I don’t know (or care) where the money came from but it’s clear that they paid for the vast majority of their content, paid for link outreach services, etc.
So why does that matter?
When you come into a space seeking commercial gain you need to show respect to people who are already there organically.
I worked my ass off to get UponArriving off the ground, and did not take a single day off for several years. And just like many hard-working entrepreneurs, I sacrificed social outings, watching sporting events, sleep, sanity, relaxation, better housing, better vehicles, and a lot more to get where I’m at.
So if you want to try to come in and discredit the work I’ve done and the time I’ve spent figuring things out, at least have the respect to do your homework and come with some facts.
Who is copying who, exactly?
So if all of the above wasn’t enough I absolutely was blown away by this.
In 2016, Brad and I took a round the world trip where thanks to miles and points we spent like 1% of the actual cost of the trip which was around $52,000. This went viral and got us millions of views, featured on morning talk shows, news stations, a documentary, and tons of online media outlets.
It was terrifying, exciting, and an absolute whirlwind during our 15 minutes of fame.
But it was the defining moment for UponArriving, despite the fact that we never intended for this trip to produce anything other than a good time for us two. And we didn’t pay a dime for any press.
But then fast forward about a year.
I get a notification that I’ve been linked to from a major national media outlet. I look at the article and I see that this person (my accuser) had done a trip with almost the exact same details as ours.
Seriously, it was so identical to us that the media outlet featuring them actually cited to our trip from one year prior and linked to us in that same article.
It was like a college essay citing to a primary source.
To make it worse this person even made a quote how they didn’t expect anyone to “replicate” their trip…. perhaps because trilogies usually suck.
Substantively, the trips were almost identical but there was a major difference: this person had paid for a press release to get coverage for their special trip.
They obviously had planned from the beginning to make this a commercial-focused endeavor, a contrast to the purely organic approach we had that led to virality.
So to recap:
This person replicated the defining marketing moment for my website to the point that independent media outlets even recognized it. Did so for financial gain. Then they turned around and made a baseless claim about me doing the same thing they actually did to me.
You seriously can’t make this stuff up!
We could’ve had a rational talk
What’s regretful is that if this person had approached me and said something like “hey, it seems that we have a lot of content overlap, what’s up with that?” I would’ve absolutely been game for that conversation.
I still likely would’ve disagreed totally with their position, though.
First, I would’ve pointed out that everything I am doing is a product of following SEO best practices that I learned from recognized authorities in the space. You can’t ask someone to stop doing that (unless you have no shame of course).
Second, I would’ve pointed out that their website was not even showing up in my “top competitors.”
This is an SEO tool that looks at the overlap between you and other websites and at the time they were not even in my top 10 which means that any overlap that we did have was pretty weak compared to other sites.
But even if I had been “targeting” them, I still think it is absurd to try to come down on a much smaller website for doing good SEO.
If you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars for your content, backlink outreach, design, etc., and you’re going to come after someone who is doing everything organically and on a part-time basis… Do you really view that person as a threat?
And more importantly, if you spend tens of thousands of dollars in content right out the gates you’re going to quickly cover a significant portion of the available keywords in a niche.
They had been around for a few years so basically any SEO content I output was going to “compete” with their site because there are only a certain amount of keywords to go after.
It would be like Walmart moving into a town and then accusing a small business of selling some of the same products and competing too hard.
So again, I would’ve been open to the discussion but still would have felt strongly that this person was off base if they made a claim that I was being “overly competitive.”
What do I think really happened?
So why do I really think this person came after me?
I’d like to believe that they sincerely thought I was copying their work and just replicating whatever articles they output.
But that’s difficult for me to believe because this person made sure to boast their “10+ years” of SEO experience.
I don’t understand how you can have a decade of such experience and not pick up on the fact that someone else is simply doing SEO practices that are widely recognized.
I only have five years of SEO experience and I promise you I can tell what SEO strategies websites are doing pretty quickly — I could only imagine how much intel I would have if I stalked them for months on end.
I honestly think this person just had a sense of entitlement and just didn’t like that somebody else was coming up in a similar fashion.
I had the bold idea that I could go out and learn SEO, apply it to my industry, work really hard, and see results while remaining organic.
And that rubbed this individual the wrong way, so they lashed out emotionally while grasping at straws.
So what’s this all about?
At the end of the day, I want to get this out there because I believe that as entrepreneurs we should conduct ourselves better than this.
You can find endless articles on how to grow your audience, drive engagement, get back links, but how many articles do you see about how to conduct yourself ethically?
I don’t attest to be a thought leader in ethics but I’ll say that this incident revealed four key things to me that I will take with me.
Don’t compromise your character
Making money, getting views, and growing your business are all great things.
But if you get there by running around making reckless accusations and using bullying tactics, intimidation, or harassment to silence smaller competition, that success is tainted.
Your character and reputation aren’t worth the extra views, recognition, or whatever it is you’re chasing.
Have respect for those who are already in the space
Have respect for smaller players who have been led by their passions to build things in the space you are entering.
I’m not saying don’t compete with them but have respect. Don’t think that just because you have money you can bulldoze your way through smaller blogs or businesses.
Be careful with your accusations
If you ever do need to make an accusation, make sure that you have thought it through and that you have factual support if you’re making a bold accusation against another entrepreneur.
You don’t want to immediately fold on your assertions and embarrass yourself.
And if you’re going to accuse someone of something, make sure that you there is not evidence on the internet of you doing the exact same thing you are accusing them of doing. It really does not help your cause.
Operate from a place of abundance and not scarcity
The most important and serious takeaway I have from this whole experience is that as entrepreneurs we should strive to work from a place of abundance and not scarcity.
I don’t really blog about miles and points any longer (I dedicate all my miles and points energy to my app WalletFlo) but when I first started out blogging in that space, I recall getting links from View From The Wing and The Frequent Miler.
These were two super established blogs in that space and when they linked to me they shot my traffic up to levels I had never seen and it was a thrilling experience to be honest.
These blogs did not have to link to me but they still did because they were not operating from that state of scarcity. We need more of that.
Ultimately, I’m looking forward to putting this entire event out of sight and out of mind now that I have finally said what needed to be said.
I don’t have hate for this person and understand that we all make mistakes. I know I have made plenty in the course of building my businesses and I’m not saying I’ve been perfect.
But I hope that at least some people will read this article and will keep the story in mind as they go through their journey as an entrepreneur. I know I certainly will.
“Your reputation is in the hands of others. That’s what a reputation is. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control is your character.”
— Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.