In an Excel worksheet, a VLOOKUP formula might give an error, because two cells that look the same, are not really equal. Here are ways to compare cell values to troubleshoot the problem, with formulas to find exact match or partial match percentage
Author: Debra Dalgleish
How can you compare two cells in Excel, to see if they are exactly the same, or partially match? On this page, there are a few functions and formulas that check the contents of two cells, to see if they are the same.
In the sections below, we'll start with a simple check of the cell contents. After that, we'll try different tests, for more complex comparisons of the contents of two cells on an Excel worksheet.
The quickest way to compare two cells is with a formula that uses the equal sign.
If the contents of cell A2 and cell B2 are the same, the result is TRUE.
Note: Upper and lower case versions of the same letter are treated as equal, as you can see in the screen shot below.
If you just want to compare two cells, but aren’t concerned about leading spaces, trailing spaces, or extra spaces, use the TRIM function to remove them, for one or both of the cells.
That can help if you’re trying to match text strings to the values in an imported list, such as this VLOOKUP example.
If you need to compare two cells for contents and upper/lower case, use the EXACT function.
As its name indicates, the EXACT function can check for an exact match between text strings, including upper and lower case.
This function doesn’t test the cell formatting though, so it won’t check if one cell has some or all of the characters in bold, and the other cell doesn’t.
This video shows a few more EXACT function examples. For each example shown in the video, you'll find the written steps for each example on the EXACT Function Examples page. You can download the sample file there too.
Sometimes you don’t need a full comparison of two cells – you just need to check the first few characters at the left, or a 3-digit code at the right end of a string.
The following examples use the LEFT and RIGHT functions to compare partial text in two different cells.
To compare characters at the beginning of the cells, use the LEFT function. For example, check the first 3 characters:
To compare characters at the end of the cells, use the RIGHT function. For example, check the last 3 characters:
You can combine LEFT or RIGHT with TRIM, if you’re not concerned about the space characters:
And combine LEFT or RIGHT with EXACT, to check if upper/lower case match too. This formula will ignore extra spaces, but checks the case:
Finally, here’s a formula from UniMord, that checks how much of a match there is between two cells. UniMord created this formula for a project at work, where he needed to compare old and new addresses.
Here’s a sample list, where the addresses in column A and B and being compared.
With formulas in columns C, D and E, we can calculate a percentage match, by comparing the address in column B to the original address in column A.
Here's what the 3 formulas do, and the formula details are shown in the sections below:
The first step in calculating the percent that the cells match is to find the length of the address in column A. This formula is in cell C2:
The formula in column D is doing the hard work. It finds how many characters, starting from the left in each cell, are a match. Lower and upper case are not compared.
Note: There are 2 formulas shown below-- one for Excel 365, and one for earlier versions of Excel
A) For Excel 365, or other versions that have the new Spill Functions, use this formula:
B) For earlier versions of Excel, use this formula -- it will work in any version of Excel:
The example in the screen shot below shows a summary of the steps.
For more details on how these two Match Length formulas work, go to the How Match Len Formula Works section below.
Once the text length and the match length have been calculated, it just takes a simple formula to find the percent matched. Here is the formula from cell E2, to compare the two lengths:
There is a 100% match in row 2, and only a 20% match, starting from the left, in row 5.
Note: You can skip reading this section, unless you want more details on how the Match Length formulas work.
In column D, the Match Len formula compares the 2 cells, to see how many characters match, starting from the left. To get the result, the formula does 4 things:
To find out how many characters have an equal match, the formula will use the LEFT function to:
Usually, we enter a single numbers as the second argument for the LEFT function. However, for this formula, we want the LEFT function to check a list of numbers, from 1 to X.
If we typed the list of numbers in the formula, the numbers would be in an array, like this:
We don't want to type an array of numbers into the formula though. We want Excel to automatically create a list of numbers, starting with 1, and ending at X. (X is the length of Address01, in this example)
There are two formulas shown below, so use that one that works in your version of Excel:
Use this shorter formula, in Excel 365, or other versions that have the new Spill Functions. In it, the SEQUENCE function creates the list of numbers:
For earlier versions of Excel, use this longer formula. It will work in any version of Excel, and uses two functions to create the list of numbers - ROW and INDIRECT:
Here's how the ROW and INDIRECT functions work together, to create the list of numbers:
In the screen shot below, you can see the list of numbers that the two functions create. To make that list appear, follow these steps:
After the LEFT function gets character strings from each cell, the equal sign compares those stings.
In the screen shot below, there were 5 character strings to compare. The first result is TRUE, and the remaining four results are FALSE.
Next, the double minus sign, near the start of the formula, converts:
Finally, the SUMPRODUCT function adds up those numbers, to calculate the total number of characters, from the left, that match.
In cell D5, in the screen shot below, the total is 1.
Here are a few more articles that show examples of how to compare two cells – either the full content, or partial content.
Compare Cells: Download the sample file with Compare Cells examples from this tutorial. The zipped Excel file is in xlsx format, and does not contain macros.
Last updated: April 12, 2022 3:22 PM