How to Use VLOOKUP in Google Sheets: A Step-by-Step Guide

VLOOKUP, or ‘Vertical Lookup,’ is a handy tool in Google Sheets that helps you search for specific information in your spreadsheet. Think of it as a search function that goes down a column to find a match, then pulls data from a corresponding row. Ready to become a VLOOKUP pro? Let’s dive in.

Step by Step Tutorial: How to Use VLOOKUP in Google Sheets

Before we begin, let’s understand what we’re aiming for: VLOOKUP will search for a value in the first column of a range, then return a value in the same row from a column you specify. It’s like telling Google Sheets, "Hey, find this value for me and then tell me what’s in the same row but a different column."

Step 1: Choose the cell where you want the VLOOKUP result to appear

Start by clicking on the cell in your Google Sheet where you want to display the search result.

Step 2: Enter the VLOOKUP formula

Type =VLOOKUP() into the chosen cell to begin crafting your formula.

VLOOKUP requires four pieces of information (arguments) to work properly. Don’t worry, we’ll break these down in the next steps. Remember to separate each argument with a comma.

Step 3: Add the search key

Inside the parenthesis, add the value you’re searching for or the cell where it’s located.

This is the value VLOOKUP will look for in the first column of your selected range. If you’re referencing a cell, make sure to use its address (like A2 or B3).

Step 4: Define the range to search

After the search key, add the range of cells where the data is located.

Make sure your range starts with the column that has your search keys. For instance, if you’re looking for names in column A and want to retrieve data from column B, your range might be A1:B10.

Step 5: Specify the column index number

Enter the number of the column within the range that contains the data you want to retrieve.

If your range is A1:B10, and you want to pull data from column B, the index number is 2 because B is the second column in your range.

Step 6: Determine if you need an exact or approximate match

Type FALSE for an exact match or TRUE for an approximate match as the final argument in your formula.

If you’re working with specific data like IDs or exact names, you’ll likely need an exact match. Approximate matches are less common but can be useful when dealing with ranges or categories.

Once you complete these steps, press Enter, and voila! VLOOKUP will display the data from the specified column that matches your search key. If it doesn’t find a match, it will return an error message.

Tips for Using VLOOKUP in Google Sheets

  • Always start your range with the column that contains your search keys.
  • The column index number is not the actual spreadsheet column number, but the position within your selected range.
  • VLOOKUP only looks right. It can’t return values from columns to the left of your search key column.
  • Make sure there are no duplicates in your search key column; VLOOKUP will only return the first match it finds.
  • If your VLOOKUP formula returns an error, double-check your range and ensure your search key exists in the first column of that range.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if VLOOKUP doesn’t find a match?

If VLOOKUP can’t find a match, it will return an error, usually #N/A, indicating that the value isn’t available within the specified range.

Can VLOOKUP search horizontally instead of vertically?

No, VLOOKUP is designed to work vertically, searching down columns. If you need to search horizontally, consider using the HLOOKUP function instead.

Can I use VLOOKUP to pull data from another sheet?

Absolutely! Just make sure to include the sheet name in the range argument, like 'Sheet2'!A1:B10.

What does it mean if I get a #REF! error?

A #REF! error usually means there’s a problem with your range. It might be because the column index number is greater than the number of columns in the range, or the range itself is not valid.

How can I use VLOOKUP with partial matches?

For partial matches, you’ll need to use wildcard characters, like asterisks (*) or question marks (?), in your search key argument.


  1. Choose the cell for the result.
  2. Enter the VLOOKUP formula.
  3. Add the search key.
  4. Define the range to search.
  5. Specify the column index number.
  6. Determine the match type.


Mastering VLOOKUP in Google Sheets can save you a ton of time and frustration. It’s like having a personal assistant in your spreadsheet, ready to fetch the data you need with just a few clicks. With the steps outlined above, you’ll be using VLOOKUP like a pro in no time. Remember, practice makes perfect. So go ahead, give it a try on your next project or data analysis task. And if you ever hit a snag, just revisit these tips and FAQs for a quick refresher. Happy VLOOKUP-ing!