Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)

The Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is a premium content-management-system for complex enterprise-websites. AEM is part of the Adobe Marketing Cloud, that provides full service for digital marketing and digital communications.

Screenshot of the AEM homepage

AEM is the successor-product of the CMS “CQ5” by the Swiss company “Day Software”. In 2010, Adobe acquired Day Software, renamed CQ5 to AEM (Adobe Experience Manager) and integrated AEM into the newly established Adobe Marketing Cloud. Another product of this cloud is Adobe Analytics, which is based on the former product “Omniture”.

AEM is a high-end content-management-system. No matter how big your company is or how complex your requirements are, AEM can probably manage it. You will need a rather large budget, a digital agency, or a very advanced developement-department to implement it.

AEM for Content Managers

There is a lot to say about AEM for content managers. Basically, AEM feels much like a website-builder. Building a new page is usually done in three steps:

Usually (it is all up to the developer), the template only provides a basic structure and some basic rules, such as which components you can integrate. A component is a kind of container, that can contain any type of content (text, images, slideshows) or just a structure for the page (e.g. columns). You can even combine different components to build something more complex; for example, a content-accordeon. There is also a built-in list-component, that can aggregate, filter, and display content from the whole website/repository. All without the help of a developer.

This is all done by drag and drop and inline-editing. The components and media-elements are listed in a component- and asset-browser on the left, so you can drag and drop them into your page according to the rules of the template that you have choosen. After that, you can directly add and edit the content in the page. Everything is based on the principle “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG).

Screenshot of the AEM dashboard

So everything is possible. Nothing is a must. And it all depends on the individual implementation of AEM in your company. This kind of freedom and flexibility can be a paradise and a burdon at the same time. If you implement a system like AEM, it can be quite difficult to decide, how much flexibility your authors really need and at which point that flexibility starts to slow down your daily editorial routines.

Another point: AEM provides two different user-interfaces (ui) for the authors. The classic ui, which looks more like a traditional file-system (with drag and drop), and the super modern touch-ui, which is optimized for mobile-devices. As far as I can see, the classic ui is not maintained anymore. I liked the classic-ui a lot, because you can work much faster with it in some situations. And I usually do not create content with my smartphone. But it’s all a matter of taste …

Last point: AEM makes heavy use of inline-editing: You can directly edit content in the page and you can drag and drop nearly everything. Modern browsers usually don’t have any problems with that, but if you build a very complex page with a lot of nested components, then it can become pretty hard work for a browser. The good point is that there are different levels of the inline-editing, so you (your developers) can configure it the right way.

Of course, AEM offers everything else you might expect from a enterprise-content-management-system: Workflows, a Digital Asset Management (media-library), user-roles, and even digital “post-its” that you can pin on any page for other content-editors. And, of course, you can combine AEM smoothly with the the other digital products of the Adobe-Marketing-Suite.

AEM for Developers

AEM is written in Java. One of the many special characteristics of AEM is the fact, that it is, well, a kind of Flat-File-CMS. At least, it does not work with a relational database in the traditional sense. Instead, it follows a concept called CRX ( Content Repository eXtreme). According to Adobe, CRX is a kind of “super file system”, that combines characteristics of conventional file systems with those of relational databases. Well, some kind of nosql-, xml- and flat-file-thing. As far as I know, AEM is the only high-end enterprise-system that works with a concept like that. But (of course) AEM also provides different connectors to traditional databases, like Oracle or SQL.

Some other technical aspects (only a choice, of course):

Well, AEM is way too complex for a comprehensive list, but if you still read this article, I am pretty sure that you want to dig deeper into the technical specifications. So this is the right time to start your own research. Just check the public documentation that is linked in the factsheet below.

AEM for Non-Coders

AEM is a highly complex premium-software and you can’t buy it in your local electronics store! There is nothing for non-coders here. Instead, make sure that you have some experienced AEM-developers on your team or at least some very skilled Java-developers. If you don’t have them on your team, then you should hire a specialized digital agency or some AEM-freelancers (which are hard to find, nowadays). There are several digital agencies that have a business partnership with Adobe. Just look for them.


Let’s face it: AEM is a premium-system for big companies. Adobe has not published any prices for AEM and there is no public licensing model. But for all of these high-end content-management-systems you can take a decimal of your choice and add four zeros. And, well, another zero is added quickly! Usually the price depends on the number of instances, the number of authors, or similar parameters. If you are calculating your budget now, please keep in mind, that this is only the cost for the license, so remember to add some dollars for the implementation, too.

Recommendation: When to use it

I think it’s quite obvious: If you run a big, global company with complex requirements and an extensive budget, then AEM might be the right choice for you. The integration in a cloud of high-end, digital-marketing-software is another point you might want to consider. Combining AEM with a PIM, like Hybris, or with shops, like Elastic Path or Intershop, is possible, too.

Some of the better known companies, who are using AEM, are Audi, Volkswagen, Hyatt, Ford, Philips, Intel, Cisco, Kelloggs or Blackberry.

Sometimes, AEM is also provided for mid-market-companies. It depends heavily on a number of factors whether AEM makes sense for mid-companies or not. This is not only a question of the budget, but also a question of complexity, that you have to deal with if you choose a content-management-system like AEM.