This article is our independent guide on the main platforms we use and when they should be considered.
One thing that people tend to agree about is that Sitefinity has one of the best presented back end editing systems available. The editing interface is very clear and the drag and drop functionality has useful prompts to help non-technical people to use the system with ease. The integration potential of Sitefinity is pretty good too with connectors to Salesforce, Marketo and Sharepoint available through a flexible API.
There are two areas where Sitefinity is a little less impressive…
1) The out of the box eCommerce capabilities are currently limited compared to some of the other platforms.
2) The personalisation/user habit capabilities are page-based rather than behaviour-based, which can make complex personalisation difficult to manage.
Sitefinity’s licensing model is based per top level domain rather than by server installations. This means that customers looking at projects which include multiple servers could potentially get a bit of a bargain. However, Sitefinity can seem expensive for projects with multiple domains.
Since late 2014 the Sitefinity Digital Experience Cloud has been a really interesting addition to their offering. This tool, which is a well featured personalisation engine, sits outside of the core CMS product and integrates with other platforms such as CRM’s and email marketing tools. It gives intelligent suggestions on the most effective paths for conversion ultimately empowering website managers to make smarter decisions when creating conversion optimised user journeys. It a separate licence and effectively a separate product. So don’t expect all of this power unless you buy both Sitefinity CMS and Sitefinity Experience Cloud.
When should you consider Sitefinity? For complex projects with integration requirements & for projects with multiple server environments. Sitefinity should also be considered for projects where content managers are very ‘non technical’.
The Kentico CMS and EMS were largely redeveloped over in Version 7 and the common consensus is that the core product is now very strong. It might not have as full a feature set as some competitors but it does offer a lot of very good functionality at a reasonable price. Particular features of note include a very well regarded eCommerce capability, the comprehensive personalisation tools available in the EMS edition and custom workflow tools.
Like Sitefinity, Kentico has very good integration potential with other systems including ERP, CRM and SAP systems as well as with Sharepoint. Until recently the main criticism of Kentico is that the user interface can be a bit fiddly in places. However, in Version 8 a new interface was applied to make it easier for content editors to utilise the full power of this system.
The only real drawbacks are that some of the features, for example, the A/B testing engine are limited when it comes to specific requirements like cross-domain tracking. These sorts of features can be added but do require some customisation of the core controls.
When should you consider Kentico? If you are doing an eCommerce project and want to integrate your website with your ordering systems you would be mad not to consider Kentico. Kentico should also be considered by anyone looking for a CMS platform with good personalisation tools.
Sitecore has been the Ferrari of the CMS world for a number of years. It is a great platform which is evidenced by its reputation on the Gartner quadrant and in Forrester reports. Sitecore is scalable, developers love working with it and it gives content editors some fantastic tools to play with.
Sitecore customers we talk to are generally trying to complete sophisticated projects with ambitious targets. Their budgets tend to reflect this and a significant proportion always goes on license fees. Sitecore is certainly not a platform for a small brochure website. To get the full benefit of using Sitecore you need to invest time and money and think very carefully about who you work with. Some agencies don’t have the staff needed to make this platform work hard enough to produce a return.
The downside of Sitecore is that it is a large investment. As a digital marketer you have to be confident that your activity can justify a significant initial outlay and software support contracts which are regularly £10,000+ per year. When added to agency support costs and the cost of an experienced in-house Digital Marketeer you are probably looking at websites which deliver millions of pounds of revenue per year. Not simple lead-generation websites.
When should you consider Sitecore? If you’re planning an ambitious project and a change in how you do business you should look at Sitecore. You’ll need big budgets and the skills to make use of your investment.
Umbraco is an open source CMS with a free to use community edition created in .Net.
It is very popular with developers who like how simple it is to create websites. From an end-user perspective Umbraco is a perfectly usable system that can create fairly advanced websites. It’s not got the clever tools of the licensed platforms but this does mean there are fewer things that can go wrong.
Despite the fact that Umbraco offers a free community edition you'll probably want to pay for the official Umbraco support package if you are doing anything challenging. This costs around £3,000 per year which makes it comparable to the licensed platforms from an ongoing costs point of view.
There is also a licensed eCommerce product called uCommerce which is worth considering as an alternative to Magento and other eCommerce platforms. We’ve written a whole article about eCommerce platforms here.
When should you consider Umbraco? In our opinion if you are doing a relatively straightforward project on a tight budget you should consider Umbraco. If you’re requirements are more complex it becomes difficult to justify the ongoing support costs against better featured licensed alternatives.
Open Source PHP- Drupal, Joomla and Wordpress
We tend to avoid PHP but recognise that some businesses have to use PHP because it is the web technology used to run the rest of their business.
It’s a fact that you can do some really clever things with PHP which is why systems like Drupal and Magento are so popular. The negative is that PHP websites are supported by a community rather than big companies.
On a sunny day, community support is fine. But as soon as your project hits the buffers turning to a non-financially incentivised community rather than a company can be a little hairy. Quite a few PHP platforms offer official support (for example Magento Enterprise). If you are thinking of picking PHP on the basis that it is free we encourage you to stop and think. The worst case scenario in terms of ongoing costs can be shocking. Be very wary of any agency who recommends that you use community editions to save costs. This could well cost you in the long term through higher agency support costs, vendor support costs or worst of all both. If it seems too good to be true it probably is.
Our major motivation for avoiding PHP is that frequently, like with Umbraco, there are limits to what you can achieve. For example, the marketing tools that you get in Sitecore, Kentico and Sitefinity are not offered on open source platforms. You either need to use third party plugins or integrate with other specialised systems which can get a bit fiddly. We’ve seen some projects where you have to wonder the CMS is needed when all of the content and functionality is being delivered from elsewhere.
When should you consider open source PHP? If your IT team is adamant that you are a PHP business. Open source PHP is also suitable for large uncomplicated websites with little or no integration if you have access to a competent development team.
Content as a Service (CaaS)
This is a really interesting new area of digital publishing which completely separates content from the website look and feel. This is great for designers because it makes it easier to achieve more eye catching designs as they are not restricted by CMS templates. For back end administrators there are advantages too; firstly, there is no large upfront licence cost and secondly, content sitting away from the presentation allows for large changes in look and feel without wholesale software upgrades or replacement.
Although systems like Perch and Contentful are making waves at the lower-mid market and below there is some reluctance to use them in larger organisations. This is because the absence of an extensive editing interface which provides reassurance and can make editing faster by being more naturally intuitive.
Many of the platforms advertising themselves as CaaS have a lack of A/B testing tools and it can be difficult to apply significant changes to user experience without using a web developer. Having said this tools like Prismic (being demo'd above) are starting to offer nice tools for personalising and testing content. It might not be as easy to administer as an in-line editing system but what you get for a relatively low monthly subscription is very impressive.
When should you consider Content as a Service (CaaS)? For any brochure site or campaign site with a limited budget, CaaS is definitely worth looking at. It is also worth looking at for people who are trying personalisation or A/B testing for the first time and good for brand sites which are integrated with eCommerce offerings. It is cheap to implement and offers a lot of flexibility.