Philosophical differences: Sitecore vs. EPiServer

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.

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.

sitecore-vs-episerver-nordic-vikings

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.

PS. Also take a look at the previous article discussing different multilingual concepts (Sitecore and EPiServer are mentioned in that article, too).

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This entry was posted in CMS selection and tagged , , by Perttu Tolvanen. Bookmark the permalink.

About Perttu Tolvanen

Perttu Tolvanen is a CMS Expert & Partner at North Patrol. Perttu consults clients on project planning and defining requirements, and supports in selecting content management systems and implementation partners. His areas of specialization include requirement analysis audits and web project management trainings for customers.

5 thoughts on “Philosophical differences: Sitecore vs. EPiServer

    • I agree, EPiServer can be used as a platform for big websites. The difference is most evident in individual features. Many features of Sitecore have been planned from day one to support those huge installations (which might not be a good thing if you are only using Sitecore for a few websites), whereas EPiServer’s features typically work best when applied for more limited scenarios.

      I think the multilingual concepts are a good example. EPiServer is primarily designed to support a fairly straightforward translation/localization scenario (maybe 5-20 websites) and it doesn’t really have a concept of having several master languages, or the concept of a local language version. Sitecore on the other hand doesn’t offer very much features out of the box, but you can configure it to work in those more demanding setups more easily. You can for example have several master languages (e.g. Spanish and English) and you can configure different kinds of inheritance rules for individual websites. (The downside being that you have to do a lot of work before you can get even the first website live.)

    • In the conversations I had with EPiServer training and support, what I heard from them was “As you know, EPiServer APIs do not scale well.” In fact I was recommended to avoid certain APIs altogether – I believe that was the FindPageWithCriteria, but it has been a little over a year so I could be wrong. It became clear that to get minimum acceptable performance our team would need to do significant engineering and/or use additional commercial services from EPiServer. This was all for a site with thousands of pages, not hundreds of thousands or millions.

      Anyway, I can only speak to my personal experience with a handful of EPiServer sites. I’m sure EPiServer continues to make improvements and has probably come a long way in this regard since I last got my hands on it. Great article by the way!

  1. Hi Perttu,

    Nice Article, but why it sounds to me that smaller and mid tier organisation should stay away from Sitecore as it complex system which can be only controlled by the large enterprise or who are more digitally mature. If that is the barometer than not only EPI but other CMS’s like Umbraco, Kentico etc., will also be potential competitor.

    You buy a product which fit your today’s need but most importantly your coming needs while you invest time and money into building digital capabilities. So in my opinion Sitecore is fit contender even for small/mid organisation until they are able to afford the overall implementation and maintenance bill.

    My opinion may be sound biased…

    Regards
    Vishal Gupta

    • Thanks for the comment, Vishal.

      I understand your point of view, but my experiences favor a slightly different default approach. I haven’t seen many organisations truly benefit for choosing the ‘future alternative’, meaning the platform that _might_ be better for them in the future when their requirements grow. Typically when they get bigger, they need to renew their web presence completely anyway. And not every organisation grows so rapidly that they always have to buy bigger systems than what they currently need.

      Especially with content management systems customers tend have enough on their plate just to match those needs that they currently have.

      And Sitecore is a very complex beast. And therefore I don’t think the choice should be made just because “we might get bigger in the future”.

      I think this is something that truly depends from the situation, and there is no right default answer. And I know that choosing “the option that can scale in the future” always sounds better :) (but it might not be the better, as it typically is more expensive and overly complex)…

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