Many people will tell you that you should use INDEX/MATCH instead of VLOOKUP or that you should use a new function like XLOOKUP instead. But you shouldn’t be so quick to ditch arguably the most popular function on Excel as it’s still very useful. Below are just three reasons why VLOOKUP is still incredibly valuable:
1. It’s really quick to set up
If you’re using a combination of INDEX/MATCH, you’re going to have to use two functions, correctly set them up and nest one inside the other. Especially if you’re not used to it, it can take some time to set it up. Sure, it’s not like it’s going to take hours or even minutes to do, but if you need a quick lookup and VLOOKUP can do the job, why not just use it? Here’s how quickly it takes to set it up:
In the above example, I do a VLOOKUP in about five seconds. If you’re setting up INDEX/MATCH, you might still be trying to figure out which column to use for your MATCH argument. Being able to do VLOOKUP without almost thinking is what makes it such a great function, its speed is through the roof. Since you know the first column of your range is where you’re looking up values, it simplifies the process of selecting the columns and then you’re just counting how many columns over you’re extracting data from.
A couple of ways I expedited the formula above is by not typing out the entire function name (just entering VL and then tab to autocomplete the name), using 0/1 instead of typing out True/False and by not closing the last “)” as Excel will automatically do this for you.
Sure, it won’t work in all scenarios such as if you need to go left, that’s a well-known limitation of VLOOKUP. But as long as that’s not the case, there’s really no reason you need to bother with INDEX/MATCH when VLOOKUP will do the job. I’ve been using Excel for decades and I still love to use it when I can because it’s so easy to set up.
2. VLOOKUP is very versatile and will work on old versions of Excel
VLOOKUP may not be able to go left, but it can do wildcard searches and it can work if you need to pull the closest value — this is really useful if you’re dealing with tax brackets or anywhere that you’re looking for the closest value without going over (e.g. where you set the last argument to TRUE to look for approximate matches). While many people may use it strictly for exact matches, VLOOKUP is much more powerful.
And here again, using VLOOKUP in these situations is likely going to be no more difficult than the alternatives. While the temptation may be to use an exciting new function like XLOOKUP, the one big disadvantage is that it’s not available on older versions of Excel. With VLOOKUP, even if you’re working on a version that’s 20 years old you won’t have to worry about whether the formula will work.
3. Ease of use makes it ideal for training novice users and making templates with
Not only is VLOOKUP easy to set up, but it’s easy to understand compared to other, more complicated functions. If you’re making a template or need to train users, you don’t want to worry about them knowing complex formulas, especially when it involves nesting functions. Or telling them about a formula that may not work on their version of Excel. VLOOKUP’s also a good stepping stone for beginners to get them accustomed to how Excel formulas work.
Complex formulas are easy to break and harder for inexperienced users to fix. That’s why VLOOKUP’s ease of use is a key reason it’s worth using. If you’ve ever had to fix someone else’s formulas, you can definitely appreciate that keeping formulas as simple as they need to be can go a long way in making it easy to maintain and fix a spreadsheet.
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