If you’ve got a big spreadsheet with lots of numbers to look at, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to look at a large chunk of data. That’s where knowing how to hide zero values in Excel can be helpful in reading and analyzing data in Excel. By not seeing the zero values, you can easily focus your eyes on the more important numbers that may need more analysis.
However, it doesn’t have to be just zero values that you hide. Any number that’s insignificant for your analysis can also be hidden. For instance, you can be analyzing a company’s financial performance and choose to hide any movements that are less than 5%. The same principles apply as you would use to hiding zero values. Below, I’ll show you how you can hide not just zero values but any values that you don’t want showing up in your data while still factoring them into totals and any other calculations. You won’t be deleting anything, just masking the information.
First, let’s take a look at how to hide a potentially even bigger nuisance: errors.
How to hide errors on a spreadsheet
To help illustrate how to hide zeo values in Excel as well as other numbers, I’m going to use some real-world data — Amazon’s most recent annual earnings report, which the company released last month. Here’s the company’s income statement from the past three years:
If you’d like to follow along, you can download the data from the SEC. First up, I’ll add a few columns showing the change from 2018 to 2019 and from 2017 to 2019. Here’s how it looks just copying the formulas straight down:
I have divide by zero errors as there are rows that have no data. I could just remove these cells but as with anything in Excel, it’s good to be consistent. Rather than deleting those error values, I can get rid of the errors in one of two ways.
The first is by using an IF statement to say that if the denominator is 0 or blank, to ignore the calculation. The second is just to use an IFERROR statement.
Here’s what my formula looks like for the 2018 to 2019 change:
Where C5 is the 2019 data and D5 the 2018 numbers. I don’t need any parenthesis as order of operations ensures the formula will calculate properly. However, it doesn’t prevent me from getting a divide by zero error. Since the numerator can be blank or zero, what I’ll want to focus on is fixing the denominator in D5. To do this, I can add an IF function that looks at whether the denominator is a number. Here’s what my formula will need to look like to remove that error:
The formula now checks to see whether D5 is either a zero or blank, and if it is, it returns a blank value. Otherwise, it calculates as normal. Now I can copy this formula down and get rid of the error values.
An alternative way to fix this is by using IFERROR. Introduced in Excel 2007, the function can be an easy way to replace errors on your spreadsheet with another value. In this example, I’m going to use empty quotes (“”). The benefit is obvious: it’s a lot easier to use IFERROR than an IF statement, especially combined with an OR function as well. Here’s what my formula would look like with IFERROR:
It’s a whole lot easier and quicker. I don’t have to worry about the logic and all the reasons why the formula might error out. However, it’s not a perfect solution and here’s why: it will correct errors, but it’s possible they’ll be errors you’re not expecting. For instance, if I copied the data wrong or keyed something over and put text in a field where it should be a number, the IFERROR will correct that and you won’t be able to tell whether it’s blank because it is a divide by error problem or something else. That’s where it can be a little dangerous in using this one-size-fits-all approach to fixing error values. As long as you’re okay with that, it’s a perfectly good approach to fixing the divide by zero errors.
Here’s the data now that it’s been cleared of errors:
That looks a lot better but the problem is that it’s still a lot of percentages to look at and it’s difficult at a glance to see what are the big changes are from the prior year. This is where it’s also important to hide zero values in Excel, as well as low values that aren’t useful for analysis.
How to hide zero values in Excel and other numbers that you don’t want or need to see
In order to hide data, it’s useful to use conditional formatting. If you’re not familiar with how to use conditional formatting, check out this post. Conditional formatting won’t remove or erase any data, which makes it a good solution that will keep all the data and calculations intact.
In the Amazon example, there are some pretty large-moving items in the list. Removing zero values won’t do anything and the threshold needs to be big for it to be helpful in hiding the lower values. Let’s start by removing the percentages that are less than 20%. Here’s the formula that I will use in the conditional formatting to accomplish this:
Column F is where the % Change from 2018 values are. I need to use the AND function because if I just look at anything that’s less than 20% this will also capture negative movements that are more than 20%. And for now, I want to keep those. I want to remove anything that’s between -20% and +20%, which is what the above formula will capture. If I was only looking to remove the zero values then the formula would be as simple as F5=0.
The next step is to adjust the formatting so that the cell font is white. Changing the color is an easy way to hide a cell’s value if it’s on a white background. While that data is still there, it won’t be visible:
It creates a lot more white space, allowing me to see a lot more of the bigger values. The problem that I notice, however, is that there are some low values that are creating big movements in percentage. I can go a step further and create another conditional formatting rule that will also ignore the percent change for any item in 2019 that was less than $1 billion (1,000). This is how that formula will look:
I need to freeze column C because the conditional formatting will be used for the other change column as well and I don’t want the reference to move. Now, with this adjustment, it makes a much bigger difference and helps me narrow in on fewer items:
I can see that the significant changes from 2018, besides the totals, were in sales, technology and content, and marketing. However, since the growth rate from 2017 is even higher, I’ll need to adjust those percentages to also ignore anything that’s not at least a 50% improvement. Here’s how that formula will look (note that I’ll only apply it for the % Change from 2017 column):
Remember, since I’m analyzing percentages, these figures need to be in decimal point. Otherwise, I would be using whole numbers. With those changes, this is how my data looks:
Now I’ve also got a reasonable amount of items I can focus on for the % Change from 2017 column. In addition to the same items increasing from 2018, I notice that fulfillment costs have also shown a significant increase over two years.
The conditional formatting works great in clearing out numbers that I don’t want to see. However, there’s just one small problem…
If I change the color to anything that isn’t white, those numbers that I hid become visible again. That leads me to another all-important section:
How to hide values in Excel that are on different background colors
You can create conditional formatting rules to address other background colors but that’s just not practical. If you use lots of colors on your spreadsheet the last thing you want to do is create a rule for every different color and make sure the cells are hidden in the same font color. There’s also a problem if someone changes the color too.
That’s why using font color to hide values in Excel isn’t a good idea. The good news is that there’s a much easier way to hide values that doesn’t involve you having to try and match up the color.
Rather than changing the color, what you should do is use a custom number format. Simply use three semi-colons and that will do the trick:
Without going into the details of the different formats you can use, by using three semi-colons you’re telling Excel that you want no formatting to be used whether the amount is positive or negative. Now, my hidden data remains hidden regardless of the background color:
Now you don’t have to worry about background colors and can easily hide your data in any context.
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