How I Created A $36K/Year Mental Health Blog

Published: March 1st, 2023
Hugo Huijer
Tracking Happiness
started April 2017
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Hugo Huijer, and I run Tracking Happiness, an online media company that publishes helpful content surrounding mental health topics. We’ve published hundreds of articles on happiness, journaling, mindfulness, and self-awareness.

We generate most of our revenue from display ads, but I’m constantly trying to diversify this. Most recently, we’ve launched our first digital course, which is the first step in diversifying into an income stream we have 100% control over.

Tracking Happiness generates around $3,000 per month, of which 80% comes from display ads.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I have a background in offshore engineering, particularly offshore pipelines, and cables. But after some years in the field, I found my true passion by sharing positive content with others.

Let’s back up a bit:

I started a daily journaling habit over 10 years ago. As part of this journaling habit, I included a bit of personal data tracking. More specifically, I tracked my happiness (and the factors that influenced it) daily.

I found out that this habit was super powerful for me. First, I love playing around with data, but more importantly, it made me super self-aware of how certain decisions impacted my happiness.

They say 40% of your happiness comes from your state of mind. But it makes a massive difference if you're self-aware of your subconscious mind. I found the combination of journaling and tracking my happiness powerful.

So, I launched Tracking Happiness in April 2017, hoping to share with others how much this habit has helped me. At the time, I had to Google everything, from “what does CSS mean” to “what is shared hosting.”

But at the start, I was hyper-focused on building a helpful resource, so I learned everything I needed to know through Google, Reddit, and YouTube.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

I launched the first version of Tracking Happiness on April 1, 2017. It ran on a self-hosted WordPress installation (it still does), and I installed a free theme that I thought looked good.


At the start, I didn’t know what I know now. I followed my gut and wrote about whatever I felt was interesting. Spoiler alert: this is not a great way to build a media business. The first year of writing and publishing content was rough. In hindsight, it’s a small miracle that I didn’t give up at that stage.

One of the early signs of success was when I shared my great essays on Reddit. These essays were about how certain aspects of my life influenced my happiness.

Think of “How does sleep influence my happiness” or “How does my career impact my happiness”. These were great posts, and I poured my heart into them. I think it still shows! I made all these graphs to visualize the lessons learned and was super proud of how they turned out. I shared some of them on Reddit and got highly motivated when some went semi-viral. Here’s one example.

But frankly, this was not a viable long-term strategy. Only when I learned the basics of SEO and keyword research did I see Tracking Happiness as a business (as opposed to just a hobby).

Describe the process of launching the business.

Getting started and finding momentum is infinitely more important than finding the right idea, or landing on the perfect design.

Launching Tracking Happiness was simple. I sat down one evening and decided just to start, and Googled “how to start a website”.

Back in 2017, it was already straightforward to launch a self-hosted WordPress blog. I followed one of the 100 guides that popped up and launched the website within a single evening. I think the willingness to Google stuff is a super underrated life skill.

But the thing with websites is that launching them is easy. The hard part is finding your audience. And the truth is that I didn’t crack that nut until >1 year later.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For more than a year, I wrote about whatever I thought was interesting. This resulted in (literally) over a hundred articles. These articles were not targeted, unoptimized, and didn’t answer any questions someone might have. And therefore, there was no traffic.

We’re not just publishing content to get search traffic, but to become a complete library of content.

I only started getting consistent traffic to Tracking Happiness when I learned how to do keyword research. I focused on low volume low competition search phrases, and it worked.

Tracking Happiness got its foothold and slowly kept growing from there. I focused heavily on search engine traffic, and to be successful with this strategy, you need good content and something called “authority”.

I was confident in my content but didn’t know how to create “authority”. So I simply Googled it again, after which I found that “authority” is a fancy word for link building. So in the following years, I tried most link-building tactics. In the early days, I found limited success with the Skyscraper method.

But at this point, Tracking Happiness builds its authority by acting like an authority. This means that we try to cover all topics in our niche, publish newsworthy content that gets shared and talked about (here’s an example), and focus heavily on our branding.

This is the key to our success as a media company: good keyword research and building our authority as a brand. So this is where I spend most of my time now: making sure we publish content that our readers want to read while occasionally trying to publish something newsworthy.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Tracking Happiness is doing great. We’re generating about $3k of revenue per month, of which about 80% is gross income. That means if I only spent money to keep the lights on, the rest would be profits.

But as a media company, it’s important to re-invest in content to grow in the future. So about 50% of our revenue is reinvested every month in content.

We’re constantly hiring freelance writers with a heart for mental health content, to further sustain our growth.

With all that said, I think it’s important to define what “doing great” means here is important. My goal with Tracking Happiness is not to squeeze the most profit out of it. Instead, it’s about building a brand that has a positive impact on others around the world.

In that sense, I measure our success by my positive interactions with our readers, as opposed to the number that shows up at the bottom of our monthly accounting overview.

For example, I often get positive replies and emails from our readers, which is infinitely more energizing than a profit number. But in the end, Tracking Happiness is a business, and for a business to grow and be successful, I have to focus on future growth too. I hope that in a year, I’m able to reinvest a hell of a lot more in content!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the current online landscape is super volatile, and many content creators have seen their businesses go up in flames due to algorithm swings. But the businesses and websites that are thriving right now are the ones that have built a brand.

The way I’m building a brand with Tracking Happiness is to do more than just publish lots of content. Most websites stop there because publishing content is the only thing that directly moves the needle.

Building a brand doesn’t directly influence your bottom line, but I think of our brand as our moat:

  • I’m building a long-lasting relationship with our readers by inviting them to our email lists, where we share helpful content that we don’t share elsewhere.
  • We’re not just publishing content intending to get search traffic but to become a complete library of content. That means that we will publish content that doesn’t get any “search volume”, as long as it is helpful to our readers. (this is also 100% in-line with Google Search guidelines)
  • We have good author profiles, a detailed about page, and a clean design. I see a lot of websites with fake personas or non-existing about pages, which is the opposite of building a brand. And these are often the websites that get hit by Google algorithm updates.

I believe that to thrive, you need to make your brand stand out from the rest. Especially with the rise of AI content. If you don’t go the extra mile to provide an authentic experience for your reader, what’s gonna set you apart from a random AI-generated website?

People neglect this “brand building” because it doesn’t directly result in revenue. But I firmly believe that ignoring your brand puts you on the fast line to failure.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I’ve recently migrated our email list to ActiveCampaign, and it’s the best platform that I’ve used. We use ActiveCampaign and ActiveMember360 to manage the course platform and who gets access and who doesn’t. Whenever a user purchases a course, ActiveCampaign sends this user their login credentials and makes sure that they have an account waiting for them in our WordPress installation.

I’ve also Googled my way to becoming proficient with Google Apps Script. I’m constantly working on Google Sheets and Google Docs, so Google Apps Script allows me to supercharge my productivity!

It’s the backbone of the content production workflow at Tracking Happiness, from keyword research to content planning, all the way to periodically updating articles for freshness!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Despite the sensational title, the book Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday opened my eyes to how the news cycle works. This realization helped me build a (whitehat) method that has gotten Tracking Happiness featured on a lot of big media websites, like Forbes, Financial Times, Yahoo, MSN, and Psychology Today (which is huge in our niche).

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely was also a fun and interesting read about cognitive biases and how they influence your decision-making progress. I’ve read more books on this topic from the likes of Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler but found Predictably Irrational to be the most fun to read and relevant for marketeers.

I also really enjoyed Shoe Dog, because Phil Knight’s story shows how reinvesting profit back into your business is scary and risky, but necessary to stay ahead of the competition.

As for podcasts, I’ve been listening to Miles Beckler’s podcast for a long time now, and listen to Authority Hacker’s podcast pretty often too! They’re both fun to listen to and help me stay up-to-date in the world of SEO and digital marketing.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Perfect is the enemy of good. If I look back at where I started, and what Tracking Happiness looked like back then, I can’t help but cringe. It was god-awful and I’m not surprised that I didn’t get any traffic in the early days.

But, there’s not a single business that had it all figured out at the start. Getting started and finding momentum is infinitely more important than finding the right idea, or landing on the perfect design. I like the analogy of a ship with a sail. You can only correct the course of your ship when you’re moving. So even though you are moving in the wrong direction, it’s better than not moving at all.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!