This blog post was updated on 8th March 2023 to capture the name change from Episerver to Optimizely

Open-source or enterprise, Umbraco and Episerver Optimizely platforms offer comparable capabilities and software quality. So how do you decide which one to choose?

When something’s wrong with the CMS...

In most cases, the answer is obvious (“Ghostbusters!”), however, the setting was a little more serious. I am being asked this question by Steven, the CIO of a large company, towards the end of a meeting where I am being grilled on CMS platforms. Having decided on a .NET CMS in order to leverage existing skill, the organisation is considering the merits of Umbraco v Episerver Optimizely.

Steven's concern is not about product features, but rather about finding a service structure that matches his company's needs. Umbraco and Episerver Optimizely, the CMS platforms that GrowCreate specialises in, are technically compatible but deliver different service structures to different audiences. Core CMS capabilities and software quality are comparable - so which one should Steven go for?

Steven's concern is about finding a service structure that matches his company's needs

Umbraco v Episerver Optimizely - top 5 differences

The main area of divergence between the two systems is that Umbraco is open-source, whereas Episerver Optimizely is a commercial or “enterprise” proposition. But what does that mean? The table below unpacks this question using 5 criteria in terms of budget, audience, features, roadmap and support.

  Umbraco Episerver Optimizely
Budget (licence & implementation) Less than £60,000 / €80,000 More than £60,000 / €80,000
Audience Content editors Entire digital team
Features Integrates 3rd party apps Integrated suite
Roadmap Democratic Visionary
Software support Agency Vendor

1. Budget

This is the defining criteria for a lot of projects: Episerver's Optimizely’s license starts at around £30K / €40K, and you will need at least as much for implementation. If your budget can’t stretch to these heights, open-source may be the only option. However, in the context of enterprise software (and certainly compared to SiteCore, its closest competitor), Episerver's Optimizely is very reasonably priced.

2. Audience

Niels Hartvig, the Founder of Umbraco project, never tires of telling people that “we focus solely on making a great CMS”. This focus has driven Umbraco to deliver a first-class experience for content editors. Episerver Optimizely is designed for the wider array of digital professionals found in larger organisations, including marketers, e-commerce managers and senior stakeholders.

There’s plenty of companies focusing on marketing for web while we focus solely on making a great CMS that’s open for 3rd parties
Niels Hartvig

3. Features

The second half of the tweet quoted in the previous point is “...a great CMS that’s open to 3rd parties”, and indeed Umbraco compensates for CMS-only functionality by making itself a joy to integrate with commerce, personalisation or campaign systems. Larger companies, perhaps wary of the risk inherent in integration projects might well opt for a pre-integrated system like Episerver Optimizely.

4. Roadmap

Umbraco’s product development is delivered by an incredible community of developers: friendly, inclusive, and self-organising, it delivers great software at no cost. However, the democratic nature of open source can suppress more visionary voices. In contrast, Episerver’s Optimizely's license fees fund a more planned roadmap, which explains the system's pole position in the Gartner and Forrester CMS reviews.

Episerver's Optimizely's license fees explain the system's pole position in the Gartner and Forrester CMS reviews

5. Support

When something’s wrong with your Umbraco site, you call the agency. When Episerver Optimizely plays up, you (and your agency) call Episerver Optimizely. The former is more intimate: agencies work with fewer clients and are generally more responsive. Yet the latter is more stable; Episerver is a large corporation itself, with multi-discipline resources available around the clock.

So what should Steven do?

£60K won’t buy you better software, it will buy you a bigger team though...

"Umbraco and Episerver Optimizely are both top-notch systems, so £60K won’t buy you better software. It does buy you a bigger team though: developers to build it, lawyers to fuss over contracts, a support team to call at 3 am, and salespeople to pester you about upgrades. If you just care about the software, save yourself the £60 grand and go with Umbraco. If you want the team, let’s call Episerver Optimizely".

Like many senior stakeholders, Steven likes to cut to the chase, so the directness of my answer played well with him. A few months later, the project went live, followed by the appropriate round of email high-fives. Steven made the right choice and we look forward to being his agency well into the future.