What is Vlookup in Excel: 10 Things You Need to Know

by | Aug 28, 2019 | Data Analytics

9 Min Read. |

Vlookup is a built-in function in Excel found under Lookup & Reference tab. Vlookup performs a vertical search in the first column of a table and returns the value in the same row on the right.

Vlookup is best used when you have vertical alignment of data sets in a structured table, and a column on the left which you can use to match a row.

Once you understand what Vlookup is, it is quite easy to use.

What Is Vlookup in Excel?

Vlookup is an Excel function, which, as the name suggests, is used to look up and retrieve data from a specific column in an Excel table. 

Vlookup supports approximate and exact matching and uses wildcards for exact matching.

So, what is Vlookup used for? Vlookup is used to match a value in the first column and get the lookup value in the second column.

Using Vlookup, you can retrieve data from vertical columns in excel, which is what the “V” in Vlookup denotes. Here are a few more features of Vlookup.

Vlookup only works on the right

When using the Vlookup function, the values for which you want to find a lookup should be in the left column, and the Vlookup data will appear in the right column.

Vlookup uses numbers not alphabets

When entering the Vlookup column, you need to specify the column number rather than its alphabetical value.

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Vlookup has an exact and approximate match

There are two matching modes in Vlookup, exact and approximate. Users need to specify the kind of match they want when entering the lookup values. 

Exact Match: This mode is used in most cases. Users look for an exact match when they have a unique key to search against.

Approximate Match: This mode is used when you are searching for the best match and not an exact match of a value.

Now that you have an idea of what is Vlookup, let’s look at the syntax and uses of Vlookup.

What is VlookUp

What is Vlookup Source – Quora

Syntax and Parameters for Vlookup

The correct syntax for using Vlookup in Excel is VLOOKUP(value, table, index_number, [approximate match]). But, just getting the syntax right is not enough to get the Vlookup value.

So, what is Vlookup influenced by? There are various other parameters and excel functions that need to be appropriately configured. First, let’s look at what each value in the Vlookup syntax stands for.

Argument Parameters

Value: This is the value you will be searching against the Vlookup.

Table: The set of data containing two or more columns to be used for looking up data.

Index_number: This is the column number in a table for which the matching value is to be derived.


You can get any data type from the Vlookup function, including string, number, or data.

To get the approximate value for your data, specify TRUE in the match parameter, and if no matching value is found, you will get the next closest value. Similarly, if you specify TRUE for the match parameter, the result will be N/A, if there is no matching value.

Let’s understand the Vlookup syntax with an example.

First Parameter

This parameter is the value you need to search for in the lookup function. Say your first parameter is the id number 11. So, Vlookup will search for this value in the first column of the data.

Vlookup needs numeric values only, and since the id number is a numeric value, it can be added as-is. If it were a text, you would have to put it in double quotes, for example, “text”.

Second Parameter

This parameter is the source of the data where the vertical lookup will be performed. Say your second parameter is A1: B3, you would have two data columns to use in the lookup.

Here, the first column is the id value “11” and the second is the value to return.

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Third Parameter

This is the position number in the table where you will get the return data. If you say “1”, it signifies the first column in the table, value “2” signifies the second column, and so on.

Fourth Parameter

This is the last parameter in establishing your Vlookup function. Using this parameter, you can specify that you want an exact or approximate match, and the exact or approximate value matches can be configured by the user with TRUE or FALSE values.

Argument Parameters

Argument Parameters Source – Ablebits

How to Use Vlookup in Excel?

Vlookup is one of the most Useful Excel Function for Data Scientists. And, using the Vlookup function is also simple with the right syntax. Thus, knowing how to use vlookup in excel is an added advantage.

If you know what product you are looking for, for instance, you want to find out the price of something, and you can enter the product name in Excel and Vlookup will find the price for you.

The following steps will help you understand what is Vlookup and how to use it. 

(i) First, click the cell where you want to calculate the Vlookup formula.

(ii) Then click formula at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

(iii) On the ribbon that appears, click the dropdown arrow for Lookup & Reference.

(iv) In the menu that appears, click Vlookup.

(v) Now mention the cell where you want to enter the value of the data that you are looking for. Say, your cell is H2, so input “H2” in the lookup_value box.

(vi) Specify what data you want Vlookup to use in the table array box. You can select the entire table or a set of cells.

(vii) In the col_index_no box, mention the column number Vlookup will use to find your data. Vlookup asks you to use the numeric value if a column instead of alphabetical value, so if your column is “C” use the value “3”.

(viii) Next, you need to clarify if you need an exact match by entering FALSE or TRUE for an exact match or approximate match, respectively.

(ix) Now, click OK at the bottom of the window.

(x) Once the Vlookup is entered, Excel will return the value you are searching for in cell H3 when you type the product in H2.


This is the basic search functionality Vlookup offers. But, what is Vlookup known for is its ability to allow users to combine two worksheets into one to search for values. 

Say you have names in one worksheet and contact details in another worksheet, you can add the contact details next to the names with Vlookup.

Vlookup is a useful Excel function using which users can leverage their spreadsheets’ data for outside sources. No matter what field you are working in, it can help you find data.

But remember, when working with Excel formulas and functions, be careful about deleting columns. Say you emit a column when calculating Vlookup, then copy the Excel table into another worksheet, deleting a column will return an error.

How to Use Vlookup in Excel?

How to Use Vlookup in Excel? Source – Atlas

10 Things You Should Know About Vlookup in Excel

Vlookup is used almost everywhere because of its ability to dynamically lookup data. It is a great feature when you want to pull up information from an excel worksheet quickly and comes when it comes Data Analytics using Excel.

Here are the top Vlookup features you should know about.

1. Vlookup allows merging data

Vlookup is commonly used to join data from two or more tables. Like the example we saw earlier, say you want to match names to contact details, you can use a common id to pull up the data in the other table.

To enable this, you need to configure Vlookup to use the id value in one table and the corresponding data in the other table.

2. You can categorize data with Vlookup

Vlookup function allows you to apply arbitrary categories to your Excel table. Assign the categories using the table that acts as a “key” to assign the categories.

For example, you want to assign a grade based on a score, and you can configure Vlookup to assign an approximate match. Also, make sure that your table is sorted in ascending order to get the approximate right match.

3. The default match is approximate

Range lookup controls the exact and approximate match in Excel. The default in this range argument is TRUE, which means you will get an approximate match every time you apply Vlookup.

To get an exact match, set the range argument to FALSE, or zero. This will get you the exact match in Vlookup, and if no exact match is found, it will return the value as N/A.

4. Vlookup is made portable with absolute references

When you want to get data from more than one column in a table, use the absolute references for the table array. This also works when you want to copy and paste a Vlookup.

To do this, copy the formula and change the column index number so that you can use the same lookup value from a different column.

5. Name ranges to make reading Vlookup easier

Absolute ranges can look like disarray and using named ranges will make it easier to read your data by making it appear cleaner.

Replace absolute references with named ranges, which are automatically absolute. Say you add id before a name column and name the data in the table as “data,” your formula will be “=VLOOKUP(id,data,4,0), where 4 and 0 are the column numbers.

This also makes your data more portable.

6. Inserting a new column can break existing Vlookup

When you already have existing Vlookup formulas, adding a new column will break the formula. Hard-coded column values don’t automatically change when columns are inserted or deleted.

To avoid this, you can calculate a row or column to calculate a column index. Use the COLUMN function to generate a column index.

7. Enable partial matching with wildcards

If you are using Vlookup for exact match, you have the option to use wildcards for partial matching. These wildcards will allow you to do an exact match based on a partial match.

You have two wildcard characters in Excel: an asterisk (*) to match one or more characters; and a question mark (?) for matching one character.

8. Trap N/A errors to display a message instead

When using exact match, Vlookup will display an exact match when no exact match is found.  While this lets you know that there is no match for a value, looking at an N/A error is not fun to look at.

To catch this error and display a message instead of “N/A” wrap the original formula in IFERROR and set the result you want, like a “not found” message.

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9. Using numbers may cause text errors

If your table in Vlookup has numbers in the text area, you will get an N/A error when you run Vlookup.

So, to avoid this, ensure that the lookup value and the first column have the same data type, where both can be either numbers or text.

10. Vlookup can replace nested IF

When asked what is Vlookup most used for, the answer would be to replace nested IF statements. A series of nested IFs may look fine, but they require parenthesis wrangling.

Just make sure that the right key table is set up for Vlookup, that is it contains brackets to handle your values. When anything in your table changes, you can simply update the table and the Vlookup formulas will update too.


Excel is a primary application used by Data Analysts, and hence, they need to know the proper way to use the tool. 

Having a thorough understanding of what is Vlookup can help you retrieve and analyze data better.

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