The difference between UX and user engagement.

In a recent post, we took a look at the prevalent misconception that User Experience (UX) is synonymous with User Interface (UI). While the two terms are used interchangeably throughout the industry, we found significant evidence refuting this idea. While UI is an important element of UX, it represents only one facet – one prong of the umbrella, if you will. So, it turned out to be an interesting and important distinction. In many unfortunate cases, people are missing out on having a fully optimized UX by thinking of it only in terms of building successful interfaces.

For a follow-up, we’d like to once again examine the world of UX and whether or not there’s a common misconception regarding what it really entails. The way a user experiences your brand is so wide-ranging that it becomes an inherent candidate for comparison: it’s just human nature to compare things with large scopes. It’s important to be smart about that comparison, though, and to not let false equivalencies misdirect your marketing spending.

Today, we’ll take a look at how UX compares to user engagement and whether or not those who would equate them have any more reason than those who would equate UX and UI.

In our previous post, we looked at practical, nuts-and-bolts elements of UX, and found that UI only encapsulated one element of this. An aesthetically pleasing and functionally sound interface involved very specific strategies and website elements, but these still only amounted to just one of the practical elements of UX.

For this discussion, though, we feel there’s an advantage to addressing UX from a more conceptual sense. This is because engagement is more measurable on the back end of things (tracking how people react to your site once it has already been constructed).

For example, User Experience Designer defines UX from this more conceptual framework, dividing it into 4 major categories: utility, usability, appeal, and engagement.

Let’s break that down into its individual components and see what we are left with.

Utility, in this sense means how useful a website is for its users, or what value one can potentially derive from it.

Usability refers to the ease with which that value can be derived.

Appeal refers to how aesthetically pleasing and attractive the visual elements of the site are.

And now – drumroll, please – engagement.

The site defines engagement as “enjoyment of use, encouraging an appetite for repeat use.”

This is the key factor, here. While UX comprises all four of those elements of an interaction between a user and your site, engagement is measuring the likelihood that those users will continuously return as customers and brand participants.

But what actions, specifically, are the best indicators that that engagement is as strong as it should be (or at least trending in the right direction)?

Well, the specifics of engagement metrics will differ for every company and every audience. Ultimately, though, it’s your job to determine which metrics contribute most consistently and effectively to your overall marketing success. If your site includes ecommerce, that will add another layer of ways to measure engagement. These include conversion to purchase rates, CTA success percentages, etc. If not, you have to be more creative.

Regardless of whether you have ecommerce options, though, there are certain metrics that will always point to positive engagement when they are trending upward. Visitor recency, for example, is an excellent measurement of engagement. If you are measuring via Google Analytics, you can see what percentage of your visitors are returning and at what intervals they are doing so. Whether they are coming back each day, every other, each week, etc., you will be able to see the numbers on where and when the returns occur. This is huge because it is the number one link between UX and user engagement: whether they had a good enough experience to engage in it again.

Another important thing to look at for engagement measurement is how those users are behaving while they are on the site. Activity time is the first place to look here, and can also be measured very easily using Google Analytics. Basically, session duration will help you understand the nature of your users’ visits. If they are merely clicking through site after site, and yours is only a brief stop in a long line of web travel, then there was likely very little engagement and something on that particular page needs to be worked on.

Also important with session duration is to understand how different types of pages perform uniquely to what they offer. Pages with blog posts and written content should have longer session durations because they require the user to actually pause and focus. If these pages don’t have strong session duration metrics, it is especially important to find out why. Try different structural formats, tones of voice, and topics to write about to see if you can get people to engage in lengthier increments with your posts. You worked so hard on it, make sure your users are getting the full benefit!


Ultimately, UX and user engagement are two different entities that bleed into one another on a daily basis, no matter what industry you are in. Your typical customer’s UX will directly impact how they engage with your brand. In other words, engagement involves those actions that your overall UX elicits. This point is explained strongly by Andy Frawley, CEO of Epsilon and author of “Igniting Customer Connections”:

“Experiences shape how consumers feel about brands including factors such as service, quality of products, and amenities. Engagement involves the actions the consumer takes: visiting a website, posting an online review, opening a marketing email, referring the brand to friends and family, clicking an ad, or downloading a brand’s mobile actions.”

This quote sums up how we approach the question of how UX and user engagement differ quite perfectly. Much like with UX and UI, the interface was only involved with the aesthetic makeup and functionality of the site. Here, we see that the user engagement is only involved with the measurable actions that users take in connection with your brand.