How is VLOOKUP Used to Compare Two Columns in Excel?

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Compare Two Columns In Excel Using VLOOKUP

Compare Two Columns In Excel Using VLOOKUP

Okay, let’s establish the goal. We want to see if one ‘bunch’ of data exists within another bunch of data. Now, unless you are prepared to spend some time using VBA to do complex scripting, you won’t get a precise result. However, that’s not a big deal.

Simply, we just want to confirm if data exists for investigative reasons. It’s not some complex report or analysis we are building, it is just verification and that’s the premise of this quick guide. It’s not a lengthy guide on the subject, anyhow George will answer your queries!

So, with that said, let’s go forth and use the trusty VLOOKUP to get this done. I’ve got a List of Artists 1 and a List of Artists 2 (spot your favorites!)

Well, the task is to see if artists in List 1 are in List 2 AND vice versa. At first, let’s prepare the space on the sheet. I’m going to create a column to the right of each list (right-click on column B and select ‘Insert’) and label it ‘does Artist exist in other lists?’

VLOOKUP to Compare the Two Columns

Now, we are going to use the trusty VLOOKUP formula. All we need to do is to enter the following formula into cell B2

= VLOOKUP(A2,C:C,1,0)

This formula will check if the contents of Cell A2 (Thom Yorke) exist in the List of Artists 2. Once we press ‘Enter’, we can see the result is #N/A, which is Excel’s error for letting us know it can’t find what we are looking for.

Now, let’s drag this formula all the way down to B15.

We can see that ‘Jeff Buckley’ and ‘Tim Buckley’ are the only names in List 1 that appear in List 2.

Doing the same for the other side with the formula =VLOOKUP (C2, A: A, 1, 0) dragged all the way down, we get again, ‘Tim Buckley’ & ‘Jeff Buckley.’

Again, ‘Tim Buckley’ & ‘Jeff Buckley’

Did we miss any values when comparing lists with VLOOKUP?

So far great…BUT!

If I do a visual inspection, I can see that ‘Christopher Wallace’ is in both lists, but his name hasn’t been verified in either with the VLOOKUP, why is it so?

I can reveal that after taking a closer look, it appears that the name ‘Christopher Wallace’ in List 2 has an extra space after it!

So, how do we account for this without having to concern ourselves with a visual inspection every time?

Well, this is a classic error that requires a bit of adjusting to the formulas.

We need to use the TRIM formula, which removes leading and trailing spaces from the contents of any cell.

So, for the second formula, we would re-write it like this;


If we drag the formula all the way down, we get ‘Christopher Wallace’ (Highlighted in Yellow).

What about the other side, where there is no extra space? Well, we need to adjust the center range that the VLOOKUP looks in (Column C) with the TRIM Formula.

The way we do that is to use something called an ‘Array Formula’. I won’t get into the details of an array formula, here as it’s quite complex, but it can help us to adjust the entire range within the formula.

So, we will write this as:


BUT, instead of pressing ‘Enter’, we press Ctrl + Shift + Enter at the same time.

We will end up with a result in B2 that looks like this:


Excel puts curly braces around the formula, which indicates we are using an array formula.

Now if we drag this down, we get…

This is the result we are after and really we want to combine the use of TRIMs, so we essentially use the same formula in both columns:

=VLOOKUP(TRIM(A2),TRIM(C:C),1,0) [ctrl + shift + enter]

To see if the list 1 entries are present in list 2, and

=VLOOKUP(TRIM(C2),TRIM(A:A),1,0) [ctrl + shift + enter]

So, there you have a quick way of comparing two lists with VLOOKUP.