Choosing a DXP: Kentico Xperience or Optimizely

Kentico Xperience and Optimizely Digital Experience Platform are two industry leading .NET-based DXPs with a broad feature set, long history, and strong roadmap. Mid- to large-sized organisations on a Microsoft tech stack will often find themselves researching and potentially trying to decide which platform suits them best. We use our expertise to break down the key differences between these fantastic platforms and help you choose one or the other.

Andy Thompson pulling a funny face

By Andy Thompson & Ynze Nunnink, 12 minute read

Kentico Xperience vs Optimizely DXP - why?  

This post has been written to help our clients (and you, the reader) make the right decision when choosing a new CMS or DXP. Xperience and Optimizely (formerly known as Episerver) are two common platforms that we find our clients comparing so we thought we'd sum up our viewpoint and share it with the wider world. 

Why trust our viewpoint? 

Well, unlike the many technology analysts out there, we've actually implemented projects on these platforms and have two specialists carrying out these comparisons for you. 

Point in time comparison

These platforms are in active development and have strong roadmaps, so it's important to note exactly which versions or releases we're comparing in this post as of October 2021.

Kentico Xperience is the flagship DXP product from Kentico Software, headquartered in The Czech Republic and with a global presence. We're looking specifically at the latest version 13, Refresh 3, released on 14 September 2021. We presume you'll be using the MVC development model as recommended and as the only model available in Xperience 13+, and .NET 5 (Core) as your underlying Microsoft Framework for your website project.

Optimizely was acquired in 2020 by well-known DXP provider Episerver, which then rebranded to take on the name Optimizely to cover their entire suite of products. In this comparison, we're looking at their Optimizely Digital Experience Platform which includes the key components 'Content Cloud', 'Commerce Cloud', and 'Intelligence Cloud'. The latest versions at the time of writing were CMS version 12.0 and Commerce 14.0.

Kentico Xperience 13 dashboard screenshot
Screenshot of the Optimizely 12 DXP interface

CMS Comparison Matrix

In our How to choose the right CMS article, we provided a blank, editable CMS Comparison Matrix to help you do an apples-to-apples comparison between two CMS or DXPs, for your specific needs.

The good news with this Xperience vs Optimizely comparison, is we've filled out most of that Comparison Matrix spreadsheet for you! But in this post we also dive into a detailed discussion of the similarities and key differences. Often many of the 'standard' features of a DXP are matched quite closely by competing platforms, so it's these differences which tend to drive decisions between them.

The completed, downloadable copy of the CMS Comparison Matrix is available at the bottom of this post.

Technology Research Services

Optimizely is consistently listed in reports from Forrester and Gartner, including notably as a Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for DXP and Forrester's Agile CMS Wave and Wave for Digital Experience Platforms.

Kentico Xperience is listed as a Contender in the Forrester Wave: Agile Content Management Systems report and as a Niche Player in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, publications which focus on mid-tier and enterprise-level platforms.

Key similarities

Both platforms are ASP.NET MVC Content Management Systems, with strong active development, a roadmap for future versions, and support the latest .NET Core MVC (specifically .NET 5+) Microsoft technology for development. Weekly hotfixes and regular feature releases are available for both DXPs, as they're both very actively developed.

Optimizely and Xperience both offer a relatively broad feature set covering content, marketing and commerce, although some features go deeper than others as we'll explain later on. Xperience refer to their core features as Content, Commerce, and Marketing, in a unified platform. Optimizely offer Content, Commerce, and Optimization.

Developers find working with both platforms to be a good experience, with full support for multiple environments, and plenty of tools available to aid with team development and deployments between environments. Simple infrastructure requirements and good APIs mean speed to market is strong with both platforms. Both provide strong e-learning and certification for developers and marketers.

Both platforms offer strong support for running multiple sites from one installation, as well as multiple languages or culture variants for your websites, and for the CMS interface itself.

Both respect PII and privacy laws such as GDPR with dedicated functionality or modules to deal with the typical scenarios website administrators are likely to face dealing with these kinds of issues.

Optimizely and Kentico have global implementation partner networks, and a strong local presence in Australia.

Both DXPs offer only annual subscription licensing, although their pricing models differ a little.

Key differences

Managed cloud (PaaS) v self-managed

Optimizely has a very strong and mature PaaS offering for all new licences, and is tied in to their pricing model. Modern and mature tooling is available to ease deployments into and management of multiple environments inside their fully managed Azure Platform-as-a-Service. Certain services such as Optimizely Search and Navigation are only available within this cloud platform.

Kentico Xperience is very well-optimised for cloud hosting, and in fact it was the first DXP to be certified by Microsoft to run in Azure. Customers or agencies need to manage this themselves, although it is relatively straight-forward to do this. Kentico does not presently include fully managed cloud hosting for your site, however a full Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering is on their roadmap for the next generation of Kentico Xperience. This full SaaS offering is a big focus for the Kentico team and will likely be launched in 2022.

Unified platform v suite of products

Xperience offers all of its comprehensive feature set 'out of the box' - there are no additional modules to purchase separately and install for features such as advanced workflows, marketing automation, optimisation/testing, commerce, analytics, reporting, and forms. These are all built and supported by Kentico Software directly, and have a consistent interface and unified documentation and support.

Like many other enterprise DXP vendors, Optimizely has opted for more of an acquisitive approach to building out their offering, rather than building everything in-house. This means behind the scenes, the platform is a combination of a number of products that have been acquired, and integrated tightly into their tech ecosystem.

Optimizely are trying to gradually simplify this ecosystem into three main components: Content Cloud, Commerce Cloud, and Intelligence Cloud. Recently they've seen rapid growth and significant change, incorporating a lot of new features and modules. While they're integrated very well, you'll occasionally see UI shifts, and developers might encounter differing APIs. In some cases different offerings have completely separate documentation and can require separate developer certification.

On the other hand, Kentico Xperience is a single product in single codebase. Its feature set, documentation, APIs and UI are relatively consistent and rock-solid.

Depth of features

While both platforms have quite a broad feature set, or in other words, many features, Optimizely goes much deeper with some.

Due to their recent acquisition of major platforms such as Zaius and Idio, and the existing Optimizely (before it was acquired by Episerver), Optimizely has an extremely rich feature set in what they're consolidating as their Intelligence Cloud offering.

Similarly, acquisitions of B2B and B2C e-commerce providers mean that Optimizely's Commerce Cloud offering is also on another level compared to Xperience, with support for multi-store and multi-market features, and separate backing by Forrester just on the commerce side of things.

Xperience's feature set is broad and covers all the bases for many customers, particularly around content management and digital marketing, but just can't match the depth in some areas provided by Opti's acquisitions of complete products.

Customer Data Platform

Optimizely has a true Customer Data Platform (CDP) via their ODP (Optimizely Data Platform) offering. This is also likely being consolidated into their Intelligence Cloud offering, but is worth pointing out as this is becoming a differentiator for a number of enterprise-tier DXPs.

Xperience can certainly manage customer data and intelligence for most mid-size and some larger enterprise organisations, but doesn't match up with the feature set provided by enterprise CDPs.

Licensing structure

In recent years, both vendors have simplified their offerings to only annual subscriptions. However the pricing is calculated differently.

Xperience offers a per-site licensing cost with two simple tiers, Business for basic content management, and Enterprise which includes advanced workflow and digital marketing and automation features. They also offer Corporate licences at a flat fee for unlimited sites.

Optimizely's pricing model is a little more complex. It does not count how many sites you're running, but rather it's based on which modules you purchase (such as Commerce or Intelligence), but also on usage or consumption. This factors in how many page views your sites are serving, emails sent from the system, number of SKUs (products) in Commerce, and even Optimizely Search and Navigation has its own tiered pricing. While more complicated, it is still transparent, you might just want to contact Optimizely for a quote.

In terms of how this translates to pricing, for different scenarios, different platforms might cost more or least. But in simple terms, at the entry level, for simple websites, Xperience has a lower price, but its broad feature set 'out of the box' provides very good value for that cost. In some cases, for example multi-site scenarios without huge traffic, pricing can come out quite similar. At the higher end, i.e. all features included with high traffic/usage, Optimizely is more expensive than Xperience.

Workflows and marketing automation

Both DXPs provide for more advanced workflows and marketing automation scenarios, but they take different approaches.

Xperience offers multiple workflows and an Advanced Workflow Builder out of the box, with an easily accessible visual experience for marketing automation that digital marketers will find easy to use for a wide range of scenarios. In a recent refresh, Xperience also added Sentiment Analysis, which leverages Azure AI to recognise positive and negative wording in content throughout your site, including user-generated content.

Optimizely provides a different marketing automation experience via their Optimizely Data Platform (ODP) through a recent acquisition of Zaius, which is more data-driven, and provides powerful access to underlying customer data to produce insights and assist with analysis and segmentation.

Both approaches can achieve similar outcomes given that they have similar analytics data behind the scenes, but Xperience is more focused on visual workflows and content analysis, while Optimizely is more focused on insights and tapping into customer data.

Headless approach

When it comes to providing a headless solution for omnichannel use cases, Kentico and Optimizely as vendors both service headless use cases, but have taken slightly different approaches.

Optimizely takes a 'hybrid' approach, where it provides a dedicated headless API as part of its existing traditional DXP, to expose content from within the CMS in a structured way similar to a true Headless CMS.

Kentico Xperience as a stand-alone platform only provides more traditional REST APIs, and for their Headless CMS, they have chosen to produce a completely separate, dedicated Content-as-a-Service platform in Kontent by Kentico. It is possible to integrate the two products to enable you to serve your traditional Xperience content through Kontent as a true cloud-first headless API.

Search

Xperience has a few in-built search offerings including 'Smart Search' which is based on Lucene.net, but also  integrates very tightly with Azure Cognitive Search (regardless of whether you have chosen to host your site within Azure).

Optimizely have a dedicated 'Optimizely Search and Navigation' feature, which is fully integrated into their managed cloud offering, to provide personalised search and listing results. It is powered by Elasticsearch, which is also based on Lucene.

Why would you choose Kentico Xperience?

The primary reasons we see a customer going for Kentico Xperience rather than Optimizely are:

Unified platform

Kentico Xperience uniquely offers a complete suite of content management, online marketing, and commerce features out-of-the-box, in a single unified platform supported by a single vendor, with a single licence fee. If Xperience's feature set covers most of your requirements, it's a great option.

Kentico Experience feature overview

Mid-tier sweet spot

Middle-sized enterprises (not small, but not huge either) who want an enterprise-capable DXP with very strong local support and SLAs from a licensed vendor, typically find the price of Xperience to be very competitive against its enterprise-tier competition. In many cases, the broad feature set in Kentico Xperience more than covers the vast majority of a customer's requirements, so they get an excellent return on investment compared to higher-priced competitors, as they're not paying for additional advanced features that they are not going to use.

Hosting flexibility

There is always a trade-off, but if you are happy to manage your hosting and want to have completely control over your own hosting infrastructure, Xperience gives you complete control and flexibility there. You can of course always engage with a third-party to manage your Xperience hosting in the cloud, and there are plenty of hosting partners in Kentico's partner network.

Why would you choose Optimizely?

The key reasons we see people leaning toward Optimizely as their DXP include:

Managed Cloud offering

If you do not want to manage your own infrastructure, the fully managed cloud PaaS offering from Optimizely is very mature and complete. You pay a single price for the software licence, infrastructure and usage.

Intelligence Cloud

Due to the strong acquisitions they've made in recent years, Optimizely has a particularly strong offering in this area, with their Optimizely Data Platform and the Web Experimentation feature set they gained from the Episerver->Optimizely acquisition. Customers with complex requirements or big plans in this area will benefit from these integrations and the impressive roadmap.

Screenshot of Optimizely Intelligence Cloud

Advanced Commerce requirements

Similarly to Intelligence Cloud, if your project has advanced e-commerce requirements, the very strong feature sets provided by recent acquisitions in this area could be enough to tip the balance.

Remember your personal preference

We implement multiple similar platforms for a reason - there is no obvious 'winner' in all cases. If one platform was better in every case than another, we wouldn't be working with both. 

If none of the reasons we've listed in this post are particularly strong for you, it could come down to just which platform you or your team prefer. That's why we include fields just for that in our CMS Comparison Matrix, which we've left blank, because that part is up to you!

Book a demo, watch some videos, run an online trial. Get your hands on the platform and see what works best for you and your team.

Spoilt for choice

Optimizely and Kentico Xperience are both very strong mid- to enterprise-tier Digital Experience Platforms, offering a broad suite of content, commerce and marketing features under one banner. Optimizely offers a very impressive range of enterprise optimisation and experimentation features in a fully managed cloud (PaaS) platform, while Xperience offers a unified platform and very transparent, consistent and competitive pricing.

Download our detailed comparison of Kentico Xperience and Optimizely

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