The Gist

  • Web CMS/DXP knowledge base. Choosing the right Web CMS or DXP requires a deep understanding of project requirements and considering the diverging needs of stakeholders.
  • Sitecore vs. Umbraco. These two vendors represent different parts of the spectrum in the DXP market, with Sitecore being a complex, integrated, and expensive DXP, while Umbraco is a less complex, open-source Web CMS loved by developers.
  • Who wins? Factors to consider in determining the best platform include the aim of the project, cost, speed of implementation, digital marketing requirements, publishing and admin experience, and the choice between headless or composable architecture.

Editor's note: This article is the first in a two-part series covering Umbraco and Sitecore. This first article is focused on high level, business focused conclusions. The second article in the series will be more detailed and will dig deeper into both technical and business elements.

Deciding on which Web CMS or Digital Experience Platform (DXP) to use for a particular project requires a deep understanding of your project requirements, taking into account the often diverging requirements of all project stakeholders. Once you make a decision you’ll be stuck with it for quite a few years, and a failed implementation can turn into a disaster, financially and for business operations. It’s a critical decision.

The Web CMS and DXP market is both broad and mature, and in practice digital marketing teams have a lot of choice; of course having multiple options is always a bonus, but it can be quite difficult to know where to start and teams rightfully agonize about which DXP or Web CMS they should use.

The Matchup: Sitecore and Umbraco

In this article we’re going to compare two leading but contrasting platforms — Sitecore and Umbraco — and the kind of questions digital marketing teams need to consider when choosing between the two. In some respects, Sitecore and Umbraco represent different parts of the spectrum of choice in the DXP market. Sitecore is a more complex, integrated and expensive DXP that covers the full digital marketing stack, although is it now available to support composable architecture too. Meanwhile, Umbraco is a less complex, open-source Web CMS that has fewer features, but offers a great admin and editor experience and is loved by developers.

I’ve worked with both platforms, and you can build some excellent digital customer experiences using either. However, there are particular projects where Umbraco is clearly going to be a better fit than Sitecore, and other projects where the reverse is true. Let’s explore some of the areas that digital marketers need to consider in determining the best platform for their website.

1. Aim of Your Project: Simplicity vs. Complexity

What you’re trying to achieve with your project in the short term but also the longer term will be a major factor in your choice of Web CMS or DXP. If your project is a single website and is unlikely to require a more complicated experience, then Umbraco is more likely to be a better fit than Sitecore. Umbraco is excellent for straightforward, standalone websites although the platform can still deliver complex customer experiences and be a long-term solution for a single website.

However, if you’re effectively building something more complicated such as a multiple site environment with devolved ownership such as a set of local country-level websites for a global brand, then you’re likely to need a more robust DXP like Sitecore. Likewise, if your ambition is to evolve your site into something more sophisticated involving multiple sites and experiences, then Sitecore could be a better long-term choice.

Related Article: Sitecore Incorporates OpenAI Generative AI Into Software Solutions

2. Cost: Considerable Differences Between Sitecore, Umbraco

Of course, the budget for your project will be a major determinant of any preferred solution. When considering costs, you need to take in the total cost of ownership including licensing, development, hosting, ongoing support and maintenance, testing, various project costs such as change management and more.

When it comes to costs, the differences between Sitecore and Umbraco are going to be considerable. Sitecore is not a cheap product — it is usually considered a major investment. Recently, the ability to purchase particular elements of Sitecore in a more granular fashion provides some opportunities to reduce costs, but overall, you’re still looking at a significant budget. Then there will be all the development costs on top.

Umbraco doesn’t have licensing costs as it is open source, so the major cost will need to be on development, although you may also want to pay for some additional features provided by Umbraco partners. There are also some options around a paid-for hosted Umbraco instance (Umbraco Cloud) or a fully headless CMS (Umbraco Heartcore.) Whatever option you choose, overall an average Umbraco project will be much cheaper than a Sitecore equivalent, and tends to provide great value for money.

Related Article: 5 Improvements to Umbraco Content Management System

3. Speed of Implementation

Speed to market may be an important non-functional requirement for your website build. If you need something to be built very quickly, then Umbraco is going to be a better choice than Sitecore. It’s perfectly feasible to build something within a week if necessary, although we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it! It’s even possible you might want to set up something in Umbraco really quickly, and then swap it out for a different DXP like Sitecore later down the line. Generally, a website project involving Sitecore is likely to take significantly longer to develop and deploy.

4. Digital Marketing Requirements and Relative Level of Sophistication

Your overall digital marketing requirements and their relative level of sophistication will be a major input into any Web CMS or DXP selection. If you require detailed analytics, granular personalization and advanced marketing automation in a complex digital environment then you’re likely need the muscle of a fully-fledged DXP like Sitecore, where these features are generally regarded as industry-leading.

Learning Opportunities

Umbraco does not really have native digital marketing features, but instead relies on additional modules from Umbraco partners that can carry out some analytics, personalization and automation. However, these are unlikely to meet more complex needs, and Sitecore will be a more comprehensive longer-term solution for those requiring advanced digital marketing features.

5. Publishing and Admin Experience

The publisher and administration experience of a DXP or Web CMS is a factor in platform selection that isn’t always given the prominence it should. If a platform is consistently difficult to administer with complicated interfaces, it can be easy for a digital marketing team to quickly fall out of love with their DXP. It also means they are less likely to exploit the full features of a platform, which often then get unused.

Similarly, if you work with a high number of publishers or authors with some devolved content management, it can be hard to sustain that model when the editing and publishing experience of a Web CMS is poor. Publishers will then need hand holding or are simply reluctant to use it.

The admin and publisher experience in Umbraco is considered a strength — it’s very easy to use and people can get up to speed very quickly. In Sitecore, the experience is generally considered more complex and less intuitive. Quite a lot of this is to do with the sheer breadth of features and the power of the platform.

However, there is definitely an associated learning curve that comes with Sitecore, and you will need to organize training; although once admins or publishers get used to it, the interfaces are actually pretty consistent.

6. Headless or Composable?

Headless publishing and composable architecture continue to be areas of interest for digital marketing teams who are looking for a more agile and flexible approach to managing digital customer experience. For teams wanting to either go headless or composable for their website project, the good news is that both Sitecore and Umbraco have been ramping up their ability to support both models, and it is possible to involve either platform in a headless or composable set-up.

However, to a certain extent, a decision could be affected by the choice of the other tools involved in your website set-up and the ability of your chosen Web CMS or DXP to play nicely with it.

Related Article: Composable: The Marketer's Perspective and Roadmap

Choosing the Right Web CMS or DXP

There is a stack of other elements to consider in choosing the right DXP or Web CMS for your website, including your previous experience, the preferences of your team and more. Both Umbraco and Sitecore offer robust options to deliver strong digital customer experiences, and of course there are range of other solutions on offer too.

Whatever you do, always take a structured approach to making any decision by undertaking some research, getting a hands-on feel for the strengths and weaknesses of any solution, and consider both your short- and long-term goals.