Philosophical differences: Sitecore vs. EPiServer

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Sitecore and EPiServer are two of the major players in the CMS market. Especially those customers that prefer Microsoft technologies tend to evaluate both of these platforms. Sitecore has already proven itself as a very global player, while EPiServer is catching up especially after acquiring Ektron this year.

North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.

6 October 2015

Perttu Tolvanen

Sitecore is focusing a bit more on the Nordics right now and possibly for that reason we are seeing more customers showing interest in Sitecore. And since EPiServer is the strongest .Net player in the Nordics overall, it is logical that many customers ponder the differences between Sitecore and EPiServer. This year alone, we have helped several customers figure out which would be the best technology direction for them.

From the Nordic perspective, it could be said that the Danish Sitecore is attacking the EPiServer strongholds Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Here are a few high-level notes about the differences between these two platforms. This is not our typical approach to comparing systems, since we think that all comparisons need to be done based on each client’s requirements. That said, there definitely are areas where systems can have differences on a “philosophical” level. I hope the following will help you get a bit deeper understanding about the differences between these systems.

1) Selling the future vs. selling the user experience.

Sitecore is a huge company (800 people around the world) with a very strong agenda. They sell the promise of more targeted and personalized customer experience. They might be a technology company, but what they are truly selling is the vision of a more personalized experiences.

In comparison, EPiServer is a much more practical company that sells a feature-rich and user-friendly CMS that can be used to manage large-scale websites – even with some personalized content.

EPiServer is catching up in features and in its sales message, but when it comes to company culture and attitude, there is a clear difference between these two companies.

Sitecore’s approach is much more about “building a smart content machine” that can integrate with your CRM, e-commerce and other systems. EPiServer is a more practical tool that enables your web team to easily edit, optimize and publish content to your websites.

For example, Sitecore’s approach to analytics is a huge database of behavioral data that can be used to personalize the website content. EPiServer’s approach to analytics is a Google Analytics gadget that is easily visible for the content editors when they browse the website.

Whether Sitecore’s futuristic vision and ambitious capabilities are better, depends entirely of the client’s maturity and future plans. If more personalized experiences is what needs to be done, then Sitecore definitely should be considered. If personalization is just a dream that might become real in some years to come, then it should be carefully evaluated whether investing in those future capabilities really matters.

We talk to very different kinds of customers, and not all of them see the future including a highly personalized website. That said, Sitecore has a bold vision, and if it matches your vision, great. If not, there are other good options – EPiServer with its more practical approach being one of them.

2) Global vs. regional operations.

Sitecore is designed to help Web Managers that have dozens of different websites, even in different markets and under different brand names. Sitecore offers concepts and capabilities that help keep everything under central control and provide additional features developed by the main web team – or the main partner. All this comes with a cost, but there aren’t many things you “can’t do”.

EPiServer can do pretty much the same things in many cases, but quite clearly the ideal buyer for EPiServer is a Web Manager that handles maybe 5 or 6 different websites – not hundreds of websites. So there is a clear difference in the scale of the approach.

Im sure that EPiServer’s sales team strongly disagrees with this statement. Definitely, EPiServer can be used for larger website estates also, but what I mean is that there is a certain difference in approach between these two systems. In Sitecore, everything is designed to cope with even the most complex scenarios. EPiServer usually starts with a simpler implementation and then develops it further when the client demand grows.

I could even say that the difference is somewhat similar to WordPress and Drupal. With Drupal, you can solve a lot of complex content challenges, but in simpler scenarios WordPress beats Drupal 10 to 1. The difference between EPiServer and Sitecore is not so evident, but there are similarities.

A rough example would be their approach to e-commerce. EPiServer is developing their own e-commerce system and clearly promoting it as their number one offering. Sitecore, on the other hand, has put a lot of effort into developing “Commerce Connect” that enables it to be integrated into different e-commerce products. Right now, Sitecore is also heavily developing its own e-commerce offering, but this is still a good example of how different the design approaches of these companies have.

It could be even said that Sitecore is developing a platform for global business operations. EPiServer is more about creating a good product to manage a large business operation with a lot of local flavors.

3) Centralized content hub vs. localized websites.

From a features and philosophy point of view, Sitecore is about creating your centralized ‘content hub’ with possibilities to personalize the experience for users in each channel – ideally executed automatically based on analytics data and profile rules.

Compared with this, EPiServer is more about ‘traditional website management’ meaning it can do most of the stuff that Sitecore does, but it is more focused on optimizing and managing the individual websites instead of enabling automated content experiences.

One of the key differentiators in this aspect is Sitecore’s own analytics capability and database. Sitecore can be used to build customer profiles that work as a base for personalization rules. EPiServer has done a lot of work in imitating these capabilities, but EPiServer’s approach is still a lot simpler and more focused on enabling individual personalization scenarios. Sitecore is more about creating a smart system that can be applied to more than just one website, or one channel.

From a sales pitch point of view, Sitecore usually sounds better because their approach is definitely more ambitious. However, from a practical point of view, EPiServer can easily be seen as a more productized and user-friendly system. They are not “building the future” as much as Sitecore is.

Typically Sitecore’s approach is valued by customers that prefer more centralized control of their brands and websites (think major car brands or consumer electronics). EPiServer’s approach is typically a better fit if local marketing teams are given a lot of freedom to apply their own voice and assets.

Summary: Make the decision only after you really understand your own ideal approach.

Don’t forget that both of the systems are state-of-the-art CMSs and both score high in many rankings (such as Gartner’s). In most areas they are very close to each other. Both are targeted to big brands that sell products to consumers – and both include strong capabilities for e-commerce.

Sometimes the choice between the two systems should actually be more about partner network capabilities than the capabilities of the product. Especially in scenarios where personalization is required, but not at a large scale, at least not yet.

That said, we’ve seen several cases where the client’s ambition level or complexity of their web estate clearly favors one of these systems. Most commonly, the deciding factor is the ambition level in personalization. Both products are capable in that area, but in quite different ways. EPiServer is easier to start with, but might not meet more complex requirements easily. Sitecore can mean quite a lot of work to learn and set up, but will not put a limit to your ambitions.

In general, Sitecore is the more expensive and, feature-wise, more capable of these systems. Unfortunately, Sitecore doesn’t have a very strong partner network in the Nordics yet (Denmark being the exception). Still, for truly global big brands the choice usually is Sitecore.

For more European-level players, choosing EPiServer might be more than enough for their purposes even for the next 4 or 5 years. It probably comes with a smaller total cost and a less steep learning curve.

Perttu Tolvanen

Perttu Tolvanen is a web concept design and content management system expert.

Perttu consults with clients on project planning and defining requirements, and supports customers in selecting content management systems and implementation partners. His areas of specialisation include facilitating concept design workshops and selecting content management systems.

Perttu has ten years of experience with web and intranet projects, including serving as a project manager and consultant. Earlier in his career Perttu has worked in procurement and as a project manager at a large media company, a content management system consultant at a large IT company and an independent, neutral consultant at his own firm. He is also a well-known seminar speaker and blogger. Perttu is also the editor of, a Finnish blog about the Finnish internet and its creators.


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