Whether there's summer knocking on our doors or winter invading Westeros, we still work in Google Sheets and have to compare different pieces of tables with one another. In this article, I'm sharing ways of matching your data and giving away tips on doing that swiftly.
Compare two columns or sheets
One of the tasks you may have is to scan two columns or sheets for matches or differences and identify them somewhere outside the tables.
Compare two columns in Google Sheets for matches and differences
I'll start by comparing two cells in Google Sheets. This way lets you scan entire columns row by row.
Example 1. Google Sheets – compare two cells
For this first example, you will need a helper column in order to enter the formula into the first row of the data to compare:
If cells match, you'll see TRUE, otherwise FALSE. To check all cells in a column, copy the formula down to other rows:
Tip. To compare columns from different files, you need to use the IMPORTRANGE function:
Example 2. Google Sheets – compare two lists for matches and differences
- A neater solution would be to use the IF function. You'll be able to set the exact status for identical and different cells:
Tip. If your data is written in different cases and you'd like to consider such words as different, here's the formula for you:
Where EXACT considers the case and looks for the complete identicals.
- To identify only rows with duplicate cells, use this formula:
- To mark only rows with unique records between cells in two columns, take this one:
Example 3. Compare two columns in Google Sheets
There's a way to avoid copying the formula over each row. You can forge an array IF formula in the first cell of your helper column:
This IF pairs each cell of column A with the same row in column C. If records are different, the row will be identified accordingly. What is nice about this array formula is that it automatically marks each and every row at once:
In case you'd rather name the rows with identical cells, fill the second argument of the formula instead of the third one:
Example 4. Compare two Google Sheets for differences
Oftentimes you need to compare two columns in Google Sheets that belong inside a huge table. Or they can be entirely different sheets like reports, price lists, working shifts per month, etc. Then, I believe, you can't afford to create a helper column or it can be quite difficult to manage.
If this sounds familiar, don't worry, you can still mark the differences on another sheet.
Here are two tables with products and their prices. I want to locate all cells with different contents between these tables:
Start with creating a new sheet and enter the next formula into A1:
=IF(Sheet1!A1<>Sheet2!A1,Sheet1!A1&" | "&Sheet2!A1,"")
Note. You must copy the formula over the range equal to the size of the biggest table.
As a result, you will see only those cells that differ in contents. The formula will also pull records from both tables and separate them with a character you enter into the formula:
Tip. If the sheets to compare are in different files, again, just incorporate the IMPORTRANGE function:
=IF(Sheet1!A1<>IMPORTRANGE("2nd_spreadsheet_url","Sheet1!A1"),Sheet1!A1&" | "&IMPORTRANGE("2nd_spreadsheet_url","Sheet1!A1"),"")
Tools for Google Sheets to compare two columns and sheets
Of course, each of the above examples can be used to compare two columns from one or two tables or even match sheets. However, there are a few tools we created for this task that will benefit you a lot.
Compare sheets add-on
This first one will compare two (& more!) Google sheets and columns for duplicates or uniques in 5 steps. Make it mark the found records with a status column (that can be filtered, by the way) or color, copy or move them to another location, or even clear cells and delete entire rows with dupes whatsoever.
I used the add-on to find the rows from Sheet1 that are absent from Sheet2 (and vice versa) based on Fruit and MSRP columns:
Then I saved my settings into one scenario. Now I can quickly run them without going through all steps again whenever records in my tables change. I just need to start that scenario from the Google Sheets menu:
If you're feeling excited about this tool, go ahead and install it from the Google Workspace Marketplace. You'll notice how much time it saves you :)
This help page will gently guide you in case you're stuck on any step.
Compare sheets cell by cell
The other one will compare your Google Sheets for differences. Whether you have two or more tables, it will check them all cell by cell and create one thorough report with differences from all sheets grouped accordingly.
Here's an example of the same two tables. The add-on creates one report with not only different cells (marked with yellow) but also unique rows (marked with red and blue):
To look at the report and all its parts closely, feel free to read this tutorial or watch this demo video:
Or, even better, try both add-ons for yourself and notice how much time they save you. :)
Compare data in two Google Sheets and fetch missing records
Comparing two Google Sheets for differences and repeats is half the work, but what about missing data? There are special functions for this as well, for example, VLOOKUP. Let's see what you can do.
Find missing data
Imagine you have two lists of products (columns A and C in my case, but they can simply be on different sheets). You need to find those presented in the first list but not in the second one. This formula will do the trick:
How does the formula work:
- VLOOKUP searches for the product from A2 in the second list. If it's there, the function returns the product name. Or else you will get an #N/A error meaning the value wasn't found in column C.
- ISERROR checks what VLOOKUP returns and shows you TRUE if it's the value and FALSE if it's the error.
Thus, cells with FALSE are what you're looking for. Copy the formula to other cells to check each product from the first list:
Note. If your columns are in different sheets, your formula will reference one of them:
Tip. To get by with a one-cell formula, it should be an array one. Such formula will automatically fill all cells with results:
Another smart way would be to count all appearances of the product from A2 in column C:
=IF(COUNTIF($C:$C, $A2)=0, "Not found", "")
If there's absolutely nothing to count, the IF function will mark cells with Not found. Other cells will remain empty:
Where there's VLOOKUP, there's MATCH. You know that, right? ;) Here's the formula to match products rather than count:
Tip. Feel free to specify the exact range of the second column if it remains the same:
Pull matching data
Your task may be a bit fancier: you may need to pull all missing information for the records common for both tables, for example, update prices. If so, you'll need to wrap MATCH in INDEX:
The formula compares fruits in column A with fruits in column D. For everything found, it pulls the prices from column E to column B.
As you may have guessed, another example would use the Google Sheets VLOOKUP function that we described some time ago.
Yet, there are a few more instruments for the job. We described them all in our blog as well:
Merge sheets using the add-on
If you're tired of formulas, you can use our Merge Sheets add-on to quickly match and merge two Google sheets. Alongside its basic purpose to pull the missing data, it can also update existing values and even add non-matching rows. You can see all changes in colour or in a status column that can be filtered.
The 2.0 version of Merge Sheets will merge not just 2 tables (one main with one lookup) but multiple sheets in a row (one main with several lookups). The data from the lookup sheets will be added to your main one by one: as you added them in the add-on. Lots of additional options will make your merge as comprehensive as you need.
Tip. Check out this video about the Merge Sheets add-on. Though it features just 2 sheets, it paints a clear picture of the add-on possibilities:
Conditional formatting to compare data in two Google Sheets
There's one more standard way Google offers to compare your data – by colouring matches and/or differences via conditional formatting. This method makes all records you're looking for stand out instantly. Your job here is to create a rule with a formula and apply it to the correct data range.
Highlight duplicates in two sheets or columns
Let's compare two columns in Google Sheets for matches and colour only those cells in column A that tally with cells in the same row in column C:
- Select the range with records to color (A2:A10 for me).
- Go to Format > Conditional formatting in the spreadsheet menu.
- Enter a simple formula to the rule:
- Pick the color to highlight cells.
Tip. If your columns change in size constantly and you want the rule to consider all new entries, apply it to the entire column (A2:A, assuming the data to compare starts from A2) and modify the formula like this:
This will process entire columns and ignore empty cells.
Note. To compare data from two different sheets, you'll have to make other adjustments to the formula. You see, conditional formatting in Google Sheets doesn't support cross-sheet references. However, you can access other sheets indirectly:
In this case, please specify the range to apply the rule to – A2:A10.
Compare two Google sheets and columns for differences
To highlight records that don't match cells on the same row in another column, the drill is the same as above. You select the range and create a conditional formatting rule. However, the formula here differs:
Again, modify the formula to make the rule dynamic (have it consider all newly added values in these columns):
And use the indirect reference to another sheet if the column to compare with is there:
Note. Don't forget to specify the range to apply the rule to – A2:A10.
Compare two lists and highlight records in both of them
Of course, it's more likely the same records in your columns will be scattered. The value in A2 in one column will not necessarily be on the second row of another column. In fact, it may appear much later. Clearly, this requires another method of searching for the items.
Example 1. Compare two columns in Google Sheets and highlight differences (uniques)
To highlight unique values in each list, you must create two conditional formatting rules for each column.
Color column A:
Color column C:
Here are the uniques I've got:
Example 2. Find and highlight duplicates in two columns in Google Sheets
You can colour common values after slight modifications in both formulas from the previous example. Just make the formula count everything greater than zero.
Color dupes between columns in A only:
Color dupes between columns in C only:
Tip. Find many more formula examples to highlight duplicates in Google Sheets in this tutorial.
3 quickest ways to match columns and highlight records
Conditional formatting can be tricky sometimes: you may accidentally create a few rules over the same range or apply colors manually over cells with rules. Also, you have to keep an eye on all ranges: the ones you highlight via rules and those you use in the rules themselves. All of these may confuse you a lot if you're not prepared and not sure where to look for the problem.
Luckily, our Compare Sheets collection for Google Sheets has 3 user-friendly solutions for you.
Add-on to compare & highlight duplicates or uniques
Compare sheets for duplicates is intuitive enough to help you match different tables within one file or two separate files, and highlight those uniques or dupes that may sneak into your data.
Here's how I highlighted duplicates between just two tables based on Fruit and MSRP columns using the tool:
I can also save these settings into a reusable scenario. If the records update, I will call for this scenario in just a click and the add-on will immediately start processing all the data. Thus, I avoid tweaking all those settings over the add-on steps repeatedly. You will see how scenarios work in the example above and in this tutorial.
Add-on to compare Google sheets and highlight differences
Compare sheets cell by cell doesn't fall behind. It sees all differences between two columns or sheets. In fact, it compares as many sheets as you need, even from different files. Usually, one of these tables acts as your main one, and you compare it with others. The add-on highlights differences on those other sheets so you could spot them instantly:
This help page and the demo video below will give you a better idea of how it compares multiple Google sheets for differences:
Make sure to install the add-on from the Google store to follow the instructions along.
Compare two columns and color dupes/uniques
This last tool comes in especially helpful for a simpler task: comparing just two columns within one Google tab. Why especially helpful? Because since both columns are on one sheet, going over 5 steps is too much. Hence, there's only one step with all the necessary settings:
This tutorial discusses every option in detail if you'd like to take a look.
And guess what? This tool is also part of the Compare Sheets collection from the Google Workspace Marketplace. That's right: you get all 3 tools with just one add-on. Give it a go and you won't regret it! (And if you do, let me know why in the comments section!)
Anyways, all these methods are now at your disposal – experiment with them, modify and apply them to your data. If none of the suggestions help your particular task, feel free to discuss your case in the comments down below.