User acquisition vs. user engagement…what’s the difference? And why does it matter?

Anyone who wants to make money online should understand the difference. Whether you’re a marketer, a website owner, an app developer, or the founder of a business, you should master both if you want to boost your bottom line.

What Is User Acquisition?

People who use any type of product, such as apps or software programs, are considered users. These users are the foundation of your business. Without users, you have no way to make money, regardless of your monetization model.

The first job of marketing, advertising, and business in general is to get more users.

This is known as user acquisition.

To acquire more users, you need a marketing strategy. Software developers, for instance, can enhance their distribution and acquire more users with display ads and other targeted marketing solutions. Website owners can increase their reach through social media, content marketing, guest blogging, and so on.

Once you acquire a user, you’ll need to keep them on board by engaging them.

User Acquisition vs. User Engagement

While user acquisition refers to gaining new users, user engagement refers to how people use a product.

If someone only uses an app once a month for a minute or two, then they aren’t very engaged with that app. Another person who uses the same app for one hour a day every day certainly has a higher engagement rate.

However, to many marketing professionals, engagement isn’t just about how often a person uses a product. It’s also about how invested they are emotionally and intellectually. Typically, the more a person uses a product or service, the more engaged they are with it.

Is there a difference between usage and engagement?

There is. Though we won’t dive too deeply into waters that can become murky with semantics, it’s worth noting that people can still use a product that they aren’t engaged with. Some have said that “using” is similar to “consuming” while “engaging” is similar to “interacting.”

So it’s possible that people can use a product frequently without being entirely engaged. If you really want to drill into your analytics to try to discern the difference, then it could help you learn more about your most engaged core of users.

However, for many, it’s enough to correlate usage frequency and duration with engagement.

User Experience vs. User Engagement

User engagement and user experience are closely interrelated.

The user’s experience will determine how invested they are in any product, service, app, or website. Fundamentally, every user should be entertained, informed, or both. Their experience while using a product should fulfill the value proposition set forth by that product, or users won’t stay engaged.

To create a great user experience, you need to focus on a product that is usable. Today’s goal-oriented users are busy, finicky, and sensitive. Irrelevant content, ads, or designs will only make a product less usable.

Focus on streamlining the user experience by helping users fulfill their goals and their needs. Develop monetization methods that add value and don’t obstruct the user’s aims.

SiteFuel, for instance, does just that. By leveraging the user’s search queries, it delivers content that is immediately relevant. Since these searches are monetized, they do double duty, by also adding a monetization method to the website.

User Engagement vs. User Retention

While user engagement is based on user interactions, frequency of use, and a user’s investment in a product, user retention is the complement to user acquisition. In commerce and retail, this is called customer retention.

Once you’ve acquired a user, it’s your job as a product creator, designer, website owner, or app developer to keep that user on board.

This is called user retention.

Retaining users can be a complex equation with many moving parts. But, in essence, user retention depends on all of the factors mentioned above: user engagement, the user experience, value, and so forth.

Unless you deliver value, you won’t retain users. Additionally, you’ll need to make sure that your advertising and marketing campaigns target the right audience and communicate the right value to that audience.

A mismatch between the product and the value proposition will result in dissatisfied customers who disengage. In other words, if you promise one thing but deliver another, your user retention will go downhill.

Since user retention depends largely on engagement and usage, many businesses rightly put their focus on developing a quality product and a great user experience. The higher your user retention rate, the bigger your return when it comes to user acquisition.

It costs much, much more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, so every business should put a significant amount of effort into keeping their customers engaged.


As you can see, user acquisition is just the first step in the sales cycle. While many businesses few marketing as a funnel that ends with a sale, the acquisition of a new customer is just the beginning. With the right user engagement strategy, you can retain more users and make more profits from your products and services.