How to Cross Reference Two Lists in Google Sheets: A Step-by-Step Guide

Cross referencing two lists in Google Sheets is a handy skill that allows you to compare and match data across different columns or sheets. It’s a process that can save time and boost productivity whether you’re managing a project, analyzing data, or just trying to get organized. With a few simple formulas and functions, you can quickly identify commonalities or differences between two sets of data.

Step by Step Tutorial on How to Cross Reference Two Lists in Google Sheets

Before diving into the steps, it’s important to understand that we’ll be using functions like VLOOKUP, MATCH, and IF to cross-reference our data. These functions will help us search through our lists and pull relevant information.

Step 1: Organize your lists

Make sure both lists are in separate columns and properly labeled. This will make it easier to reference them later on.

When organizing your lists, ensure that the data you want to compare is in the same format. For instance, if you’re matching names, they should be spelled the same way in both lists.

Step 2: Use the VLOOKUP function

Type =VLOOKUP() into the cell where you want the comparison result to appear.

VLOOKUP stands for ‘Vertical Lookup’. It searches for a specific value in the first column of a range and returns a value in the same row from another column you specify.

Step 3: Input the VLOOKUP formula parameters

In the VLOOKUP function, input the cell you want to search for, the range where you want to search, the column index number that contains the data to return, and type FALSE for an exact match.

While inputting the parameters, make sure to reference the correct cell and range to avoid errors in your results.

Step 4: Drag the VLOOKUP formula down

Click and drag the fill handle (the small square at the bottom-right corner of the cell) down to apply the VLOOKUP formula to other cells.

Dragging the formula down applies the search across all data in your list, saving you the hassle of repeating the process for each individual entry.

Step 5: Use the MATCH function for a different approach

If you prefer, use =MATCH() to find the position of an item in one list on another list.

The MATCH function is great for instances where you just want to know if a value from List A appears in List B, without returning additional information.

After completing the steps, you’ll have a column that shows which items from one list appear in the other. This setup can help you quickly identify duplicates, missing entries, or unique information within your sets of data.

Tips for Cross Referencing Two Lists in Google Sheets

  • Always double-check your ranges and make sure they are absolute (use $ to lock the columns and rows) to avoid errors when dragging formulas.
  • Consider using the IF function in combination with VLOOKUP or MATCH to customize the output of your cross-referencing (e.g., IF(VLOOKUP(…) = TRUE, "Match", "No Match")).
  • Familiarize yourself with error messages like #N/A, which indicates that a value was not found using VLOOKUP or MATCH.
  • Use conditional formatting to highlight matches or differences visually after cross-referencing your lists.
  • Keep your data clean and consistent across both lists for the most accurate results when cross-referencing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the VLOOKUP function do?

VLOOKUP searches for a value in the first column of a range and returns a value in the same row from a column you specify.

Can I use VLOOKUP to cross-reference data in two different sheets?

Yes, you can use VLOOKUP to cross-reference data across different sheets in Google Sheets. Just make sure to reference the correct sheet and range.

What does the #N/A error mean?

The #N/A error appears when the VLOOKUP or MATCH function does not find the specified value within the given range.

What is the difference between VLOOKUP and MATCH?

VLOOKUP returns a value from a specified column, while MATCH returns the position of a value within a range.

How can I avoid errors when cross-referencing lists?

Ensure that your data is clean and consistently formatted. Also, double-check the ranges and cell references in your functions.


  1. Organize your lists into separate columns.
  2. Use the VLOOKUP function.
  3. Input the VLOOKUP formula parameters.
  4. Drag the VLOOKUP formula down.
  5. Use the MATCH function as an alternative.


Cross-referencing two lists in Google Sheets might seem daunting at first, but with the right approach, it’s a breeze. Remember, the key is organizing your data, choosing the right functions, and understanding how to input the correct parameters. Whether you’re a project manager, a data analyst, or just someone trying to sort out their grocery list, mastering this skill can save you heaps of time and reduce errors. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll be cross-referencing like a pro. And if you ever hit a snag, don’t forget to use the tips and FAQs we’ve covered as your troubleshooting guide.