10 Best Practices with VLOOKUP in Excel

In Microsoft Excel, the VLOOKUP function is generally used to extract data based on a lookup value in a column or a range of cells. In this article, you’ll get introduced to the 10 best examples and practices with the VLOOKUP function.

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Introduction to the VLOOKUP Function

vlookup function syntax in excel

  • Function Objective:

The VLOOKUP function is used to look for a given value in the leftmost column of a given table, and then returns a value in the same row from a specified column.

  • Syntax:

=VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index, [range_lookup])

  • Arguments Explanation:
Argument Required/Optional Explanation
lookup_value Required The value which it looks for in the leftmost column of the given table. Can be a single value or an array of values.
table_array Required The table in which it looks for the lookup_value in the leftmost clumn.
col_index_num Required The number of the column in the table from which a value is to be returned.
[range_lookup] Optional Tells whether an exact or partial match of the lookup_value is required. 0 for an exact match, 1 for a partial match. Default is 1 (partial match).
  • Return Parameter:

Returns the value of the same row from the specified column of the given table, where the value in the leftmost column matches the lookup_value.


10 Best Practices with VLOOKUP in Excel

We have classified the difficulty levels of the uses of the VLOOKUP function into three categories: Beginner, Moderate and Advanced.

1. Beginner Level Examples and Practices with VLOOKUP

i. VLOOKUP to Find Specific Data or Array Horizontally from a Table

In the following table, a number of sales data has been recorded for the salesman. In our first example of the VLOOKUP function, we’ll pull out the sales record of a specified salesman.

 

For example, we’re going to get the sales record of Peter from the table.

VLOOKUP Practices to Find Specific Data or Array Horizontally from a Table

In the output Cell C16, the required formula will be:

=VLOOKUP(B16,B5:E13,{2,3,4},FALSE)

After pressing Enter, you’ll get the department, month, and sales value in a horizontal array at once. In this function, we have defined the column index of three Columns C, D, and E in an array of {2,3,4}. So, the function has returned the extracted values from all those three columns.

VLOOKUP Practices to Find Specific Data or Array Horizontally from a Table


ii. VLOOKUP Practice with Named Range in Excel

In the first argument of the VLOOKUP function, we can define the array or table data with a named range. In the previous example, the selected array or table data range was B5:E13. But here we’ll name this range of data as Sales_Data.

To do this, we have to simply select the array and then edit the name in the Name Box situated on the left-top corner of the spreadsheet.

VLOOKUP Practices with Named Range in Excel

Now, the formula used in the previous example will look like this with the defined named range:

=VLOOKUP(B16,Sales_Data,{2,3,4},FALSE)

After pressing Enter, we’ll be able to extract similar data as found in the preceding section.

VLOOKUP Practices with Named Range in Excel


iii. Categorizing Data with VLOOKUP in Excel

In this example, we have added an extra column named Category outside the data table or array. What we’ll do here is categorize the departments with A, B, or C based on the second table at the bottom.

Categorizing Data with VLOOKUP in Excel

📌 Step 1:

➤ Select Cell F5 and type:

=VLOOKUP(C5,$C$16:$D$18,2,FALSE)

➤ Press Enter and the function will return A as this alphabet denotes the Jeans department.

Categorizing Data with VLOOKUP in Excel

📌 Step 2:

➤ Now use Fill Handle to autofill the entire Column F and you’ll be shown all the categories based on the department names.

Categorizing Data with VLOOKUP in Excel


2. Moderate Level Examples and Practices with VLOOKUP

i. Showing Error Message If Data Not Found with VLOOKUP

Sometimes, we might be unable to find or extract the data based on our defined criterion. In that case, the VLOOKUP function will return an error that looks quite odd in the data table. We can replace that error message with a customized statement, such as “Not Found” or “Data Unavailable”.

For example, we’re going to find the sales record of Robert but this name is not available in the Salesman column. So, we’ll use the IFERROR function here and this function will define a message that will be displayed when the function will be unable to match the given criterion.

Showing Error Message If Data Not Found with VLOOKUP

In Cell C16, the required formula with IFERROR and VLOOKUP functions will be:

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(B16,Sales_Data,{2,3,4},FALSE),"Not Found")

Now press Enter and you’ll find the customized statement “Not Found” as the function could not extract any data due to the absence of the name ‘Robert in Column B.

Showing Error Message If Data Not Found with VLOOKUP


ii. VLOOKUP a Value Containing Extra Space(s)

Our lookup value might contain a hidden space sometimes. In that case, our lookup value cannot be matched with the corresponding names present in Column B. So, the function will return an error as shown in the following picture.

To avoid this error message and remove space before starting to lookup for the specified value, we have to use the TRIM function inside. The TRIM function trims the unnecessary space from the lookup value.

VLOOKUP a Value Containing Extra Space(s) in Excel

Since Cell B16 contains an extra space at the end of the name- Peter, the required formula to look for the name Peter only without any space in the output Cell C16 will be:

=VLOOKUP(TRIM(B16),B5:E13,{2,3,4},FALSE)

After pressing Enter, you’ll find the extracted data for Peter.

VLOOKUP a Value Containing Extra Space(s) in Excel


iii. VLOOKUP with MATCH Function in Excel

In this section, we’ll look for two defined criteria along with columns and rows. In this two-way lookup, we have to use the MATCH function to define the column number from the selected array.

For example, based on the following dataset, we can draw out any kind of sales record for a specified salesman, let it be Antonio and we’ll find his department here.

VLOOKUP practices with MATCH Function in Excel

In the output Cell C18, the required formula with the MATCH and VLOOKUP functions will be:

=VLOOKUP(C16,B4:E13,MATCH(C17,B4:E4,0),FALSE)

Press Enter and the formula will return ‘Jeans’ as Antonio works in the jeans department.

VLOOKUP practices with MATCH Function in Excel

You can change the output criteria in Cell C17 and other corresponding sales records will show up instantly. You can also alter the name of the salesman in Cell C16 to find sales data for other salesmen as well.


iv. Pulling Out Data Based on Partial Match with VLOOKUP

VLOOKUP function also works with the use of wildcard characters through which we can look for a partial match in the table and pull out the corresponding data.

Read more: How to Perform VLOOKUP with Wildcard in Excel and How to Use VLOOKUP for Partial Match in Excel

For example, we can look for the actual name with a partial text “ton” only and then we’ll extract the sales record for that salesman.

The required formula in Cell C16 should be:

=VLOOKUP("*ton*",B5:E13,{2,3,4},FALSE)

After pressing Enter, the formula will return the sales data for Antonio as this name contains the specified text- “ton”.

VLOOKUP Practices to Pull Out Data Based on Partial Match in Excel


v. Extracting the Last Value in a List with VLOOKUP

Extracting the last or final value in a long range of cells is too simple with the VLOOKUP function.

In the following picture, Column B contains numbers with random values. We’ll extract the last value from this column or the range of cells B5:B14.

The necessary formula with the VLOOKUP function in the output Cell D8 will be:

=VLOOKUP(9.99999999999999E+307,$B$5:$B$14,TRUE)

Press Enter and you’ll get the value present in the last cell in that column.

VLOOKUP Practices to Extract the Last Value in a List in Excel

🔎 How Does the Formula Work?

  • In this function, the lookup value is a huge number that has to be searched in the range of cells B5:B14.
  • The lookup criteria here in the third argument is TRUE which denotes the approximate match of that number.
  • The VLOOKUP function looks for this huge value and returns the last value based on the approximate match as the function is unable to find the defined number in the column.

3. Advanced Level Examples and Practices with VLOOKUP

i. VLOOKUP to Find Case-Sensitive Text in Excel

Sometimes, we may have to look for the case-sensitive matches and then extract the data. In the following table, Column B has been modified a little and if you notice, this column has now the name ‘Simon’ thrice but each of them with different cases.

We’ll look for the exact name ‘SIMON’ and draw out the sales data based on the match.

VLOOKUP practices to find case-sensitive text in excel

The required formula in the output Cell C16 will be:

=VLOOKUP(TRUE, CHOOSE({1,2,3,4}, EXACT(B16, B5:B13), C5:C13,D5:D13,E5:E13), {2,3,4}, FALSE)

After pressing Enter you’ll be displayed the corresponding sales data for the exact name ‘SIMON’ only.

VLOOKUP practices to find case-sensitive text in excel

🔎 How Does the Formula Work?

  • The lookup array of the VLOOKUP function has been defined with the combination of CHOOSE and EXACT functions.
  • The EXACT function here looks for the case-sensitive matches of the name SIMON in the range of cells B5:B13 and returns an array of:

{FALSE;FALSE;FALSE;FALSE;FALSE;FALSE;FALSE;TRUE;FALSE}

  • CHOOSE function here extracts the entire table data but only the first column shows the boolean values (TRUE and FALSE) instead of the salesman names.
  • VLOOKUP function looks for the specified boolean value TRUE in that extracted data and subsequently returns the available sales records based on the row number of the matched lookup value TRUE.

ii. Use of Drop-Down List Items as VLOOKUP Values

Instead of altering the name or other criteria manually, we can also create the drop-down lists for the defined criteria and extract data. In the following table, the sales values of a number of salesmen have been recorded for three different months. Under the primary table, we’ll create two drop-downs for the salesmen and months.

Use of Drop-Down List Items as VLOOKUP Values

📌 Step 1:

➤ Select Cell C15 where the drop-down list will be assigned.

➤ From the Data ribbon, choose Data Validation from the Data Tools drop-down.

A dialogue box will appear.

Use of Drop-Down List Items as VLOOKUP Values

📌 Step 2:

➤ In the Allow box, select the option List.

➤ In the Source box, specify the range of cells containing the names of all salesmen.

➤ Press OK and you’re done with the making of the first drop-down.

Use of Drop-Down List Items as VLOOKUP Values

Like in the picture below, you’ll find a drop-down list for all salesmen.

Similarly, you have to create another drop-down list for the range of cells (C4:E4) containing the names of the months.

Use of Drop-Down List Items as VLOOKUP Values

📌 Step 3:

➤ Now select the name Antonio from the Salesman drop-down.

➤ Select the month name Feb from the Month drop-down.

➤ Finally, in the output Cell C17, the corresponding formula will be:

=VLOOKUP(C15,B5:E13,MATCH(C16,B4:E4,0),FALSE)

➤ Press Enter and you’ll be shown the resultant data right away.

Use of Drop-Down List Items as VLOOKUP Values

Now you can alter any of the names or months from the Salesman and Month drop-downs and find the corresponding outputs in Cell C17 immediately.


💡 Things to Keep in Mind

  • The lookup_value can be a single value or an array of values. If you enter an array of values, the function will look for each of the values in the leftmost column and return the same row’s values from the specified column.
  • The function will look for an approximate match if the [range_lookup] argument is set to 1. In that case, it will always look for the lower nearest value of the lookup_value, not the upper nearest one.
  • If the col_index_number is a fraction in place of an integer, Excel itself will convert it into the lower integer. But it will raise  #VALUE! error if the col_index_number is zero or negative.

Concluding Words

I hope all the uses of the VLOOKUP function in this article will now help you to apply them in your Excel spreadsheets while extracting data based on a lookup value. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comment section. Or you can check out our other articles related to Excel functions on this website.


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Nehad Ulfat

Hello, Welcome to my profile. I'm a Technical Content Creator as well as a Naval Architect & Marine Engineer. I have preferences to do analytical reasoning & writing articles on various statistical data. Here, you'll find my published articles on Microsoft Excel & other topics related to my interests!

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