SiteCore vs. Adobe CQ – A Quandary?

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Geoffrey Lee

Answering a Quandary:  SiteCore versus Adobe CQ Web Content Management Systems


It shouldn’t be controversial to say that coding in raw HTML, CSS, and PHP for anything other than small sites is a bit crazy.  Especially with great WCMS like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress available for free.  But even these aren’t always up to the task, especially for enterprise-grade sites integrated with advanced marketing management.

Beyond the “big 3” free web content management systems, there are dozens of great candidates to choose from so deciding among them can be though.  Here we’ll consider why it’s important to seriously consider SiteCore Web Experience Manager over some perhaps better-known WCMS alternatives, in particular CQ (now called Adobe Experience Manager).  Every site is different and every company has different priorities, so there’s no simple answer.  But we will distil everything down to just a couple of trade-offs.

Web Content Management Systems

The goal of any CMS is to support rapid authoring, formatting, collaboration, and administration by design and marketing professionals without detailed knowledge of programming and markup languages.  For websites they’re especially valuable in site maintenance and expansion.  End users don’t really care what’s under the hood — supporting languages and databases, online versus offline presentation layers, and so on.  What matters is ease of use for content creation and the management of access, creation, editing, and deployment.  And that means familiar WYSIWYG editing and a clean intuitive GUI.

Yet despite that WYSIWYG user interface a key benefit of a WCMS is the separation of design, layout, and content creation from the underlying code implementation.  This lets software developers work more independently, with a much greater focus implementing specialized functionality.  That’s especially important today with increasing demand for visitor tracking and characterization, integration with marketing processes, and visitor experience personalization.


When it comes to choosing a web content management system all the leaders meet the basic and general requirements of ease of use, ease of (restricted) customization, workflow management, SEO, and social media integration.  Beyond that there’s a host of factors to consider, shown here in no particular order.

  • scalability
  • modularity, customizability, extendability
  • security
  • documentation, training, and support
  • total cost of ownership
  • maturity and customer base
  • API
  • standards compliance
  • portion of needs met by built-in features, including
    • ecommerce
    • site and visitor analytics
    • integration with accounting and distribution business systems
    • integration with marketing and marketing campaign management
    • user-experience personalization

These can only be considered on a case-by-case basis, so we won’t be going into them here.  But we will discuss a pair of closely related issues that recently have been growing rapidly in importance:  integrating site visitor analytics with marketing management systems, and user experience personalization.  In particular we’ll dig into two leaders in addressing these issues, SiteCore and Adobe CQ (Adobe Experience Manager).

A Missing Piece:  Advanced Marketing Analytics and Integration

While meeting the needs of content management, many systems have fallen behind and fail to meet the needs of “big data.”  Major sites need something well beyond Google Analytics.  Capturing every possible detail about a visitor and their activities on-site and then analyzing that data will reveal important insights into website issues, customer targeting, and marketing strategies.

Custom coding these capabilities is a daunting task and the analyzed data can be overwhelming, or put to only limited use, if not integrated with the company’s marketing management system.  Bringing all the data and analysis results into one place is extremely important.  Scattered data wastes time and misses opportunities for exploration and insight.

The larger the company and the more transactions that the website drives the more important data collection and analysis and integration with other business management systems becomes.

UX Personalization for an Extra Edge

Right now personalizing the user’s experience is a potential market differentiator for any company’s website, but it will soon be standard practice.  A Harris Interactive study found that 3/4 of online consumers are frustrated when they’re shown content that isn’t relevant to their interests.  UX personalization applies “engagement intelligence” based on visitor characteristics and behavior to dynamically deliver more relevant and more engaging content and adjusting presentation. Done properly, this can build a tighter sense of connection between the visitor and the company (together with its products or services), building more lasting relationships.  The improved communications experience builds brand loyalty and pretty much guarantees higher conversion percentages.

In many systems rule sets select unique content based on search terms used, GEO targeting, browsing device, time of day and time of week, navigation patterns, and more.  Achieving the full benefits requires an extensive team effort involving the UX/information architect, content strategist, campaign manager, and others.  In addition to the major task of implementing the rule system, key tasks include establishing metrics, audience segmentation, content analysis and tagging, and tracking results.

Fortunately, CQ supports content and experience personalization by managers without the need of custom program development.  SiteCore is recognized as a leader in this arena.  In addition to drag and drop configuration, their built-in tool kit includes predictive analysis, social connections, and persona learning and segmentation.  Most importantly, they “continue the conversation” for a returning visitor.

SiteCore vs Adobe CQ

So let’s dig deeper into these two leading WCMS that have successfully taken on the latest challenges.  First we’ll look at each systems key differentiators.

Adobe CQ / Experience Manager

Adobe Experience Manager (formerly CQ5) provides a familiar drag and drop interface for managing websites and web marketing.  Like most WCMS it includes SEO features, but also directly incorporates A/B split testing.  Other features help in implementing and managing cross-channel campaigns.  As mentioned it supports UX personalization and just as importantly it integrates with Adobe cloud storage for tracking and analysis.

CQ is essentially a Java tool, but evidently well implemented as there do not appear to be any issues with speed.  There have, however been some reported problems with migrations across sites, integrating multiple custom modules, and issues with forms.

Overall, Adobe Experience Manager is considered more elegant and easier to use, and quite suitable for a marketing department to build out a site with minimal technical assistance.  And of course Adobe is well-known for it’s extensive documentation, live training, and online training.


Rather than integrating with graphics and publishing tools, the SiteCore Web Experience Manager integrates with their other experience managers for email, mobile, and social media.  Like CQ, SiteCore also includes SEO tools, including testing, and also features predefined vocabularies of search-engine content and guidance for selecting keywords for each page.  Their CMS integrates with their Experience Marketing Cloud, bringing together content management and delivery as well as all data collection and analysis.  Tracking begins even before a visitor becomes a customer, and all customer actions are measured.  All that comes together on a marketing dashboard, further assisting with customer and marketing insights.

The ecommerce functions are enterprise class, augmenting shopping cart features with customer data collection, analysis and reporting tools.  These features can implement sales strategies, and even predict customer behaviors and respond in real time.

SiteCore really shines when it comes to it’s Personalization and Experience Editor with its engagement analytics and engagement automation.  Content targeting can be rule based (utilizing any customer attribute) as well as behavioral (based on dynamic on-site activity).


Out of the box, both CQ and SiteCore are clearly enterprise-grade products that support quickly creating and managing mobile-ready websites and building traffic with SEO metadata and social media integration.  Both admirably provide solid workflow control, and both have excellent APIs for custom development.

Rather than getting lost in a myriad of details we suggest considering these two products in terms of two trade-offs, or axes of comparison.

First, CQ is oriented more towards super-smooth development by non-technical staff whereas SiteCore is oriented more towards being developer friendly.  Using Microsoft .NET it eases integration with other .NET applications and can draw from a reasonably large programmer base for customizations and enhancements.

Second, although CQ has personalization features, SiteCore takes the lead in capturing all customer interaction at the level of individual visitors.  Beyond personalization, this means that email marketing, social media, and ecommerce promotions can pick up where the “conversation” ended and continue from there.  That’s vital for creating the important experience of being “remembered.”  SiteCore can be a key part of an end to end business solution that any .NET programmer can pick up quickly with the familiar Microsoft ribbon interface.

Top 5 Reasons to Use SiteCore

We hope we haven’t started any flame wars.  Several people have said that other than J2EE versus .NET there’s not much difference between these two website content management systems.  But we believe that there are differences in focus that lead to different capabilities when users progress from content management to include advanced analytics, integration with other business systems, and UX personalization.

If your priority is a Java system with seamless integration into Adobe’s design and publishing suite, then CQ/Experience Manager is an obvious choice.  But even then it’s worth seriously considering SiteCore’s features and benefits and where your needs and team lie on the spectrum of hands-off versus customization.  If your needs focus on extremely detailed analytics coupled with marketing management systems and user experience personalization, SiteCore sure looks like a winner.

Here are the 5 factors we think are the most likely to shift your decision towards SiteCore

5.  SiteCore is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.

4.  It supports XAML.

3.  It’s 100% W3C compliant.

2.  Its extensive personalization capabilities create compelling and super-effective web experiences.

1.  It’s the leading .Net-based WCMS, supporting extensive data capture, analytics, and business-system integration.

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