VLOOKUP MATCH is one of several possible lookup formulas within Microsoft Excel. This tutorial assumes you already have a decent understanding of how to use VLOOKUP. If you do not, please click here for a beginner’s tutorial on VLOOKUP.
VLOOKUP MATCH is an improved variation of your basic VLOOKUP or formula. Using VLOOKUP MATCH allows you to perform a matrix lookup – instead of just looking up a vertical value, the MATCH portion of the formula turns your column reference into a dynamic horizontal lookup as well. VLOOKUP MATCH is mainly useful for situations where you intended to perform heavy editing on your data set after you’ve finished writing your formula. This is because VLOOKUP MATCH gives your lookup formula insertion immunity; whenever you insert or delete a column within your lookup array, your formula will still pull the correct number. VLOOKUP MATCH is actually very similar to VLOOKUP HLOOKUP, but is slightly better because it does not require the creation of an additional row to label your column numbers.
The key difference between using VLOOKUP MATCH versus the basic VLOOKUP formula is that, in addition to your vertical lookup value (what you’ll be looking up down the left side of your table) you’ll also have a column lookup value (what you’ll be looking up across the top of your column headings).
VLOOKUP and MATCH are the two formulas that are combined to perform this lookup. We’ll look at each of the formulas separately before putting them together. The primary formula we’ll be using is VLOOKUP:
=VLOOKUP ( lookup value , table_array , col_index_num , [range_lookup] )
To use this formula, you’ll need a lookup value and a table array. (We’ll address the column index number later and since we are not performing a range lookup, we can leave that part of the syntax blank) In the example below, the lookup value is ID number “5” and the table array is the green box surrounding cells B6:F14.
Next we have the MATCH formula:
=MATCH ( lookup value , lookup_array , [match _type] )
The match formula returns a position number based on your lookup value’s location within the array you’ve selected. To use this formula you’ll need both a lookup value and a lookup array. (The match type parameter should be left blank – doing so tells Excel that we want an exact match). In the example below, the lookup value we’ll be using is the State of “WA” and the lookup array is the orange box surrounding cells B6:F6.
Putting it Together
The key to VLOOKUP MATCH is that we are replacing the “column index number” syntax of VLOOKUP with the MATCH formula. Perform this combination using the following steps:
Step 1: Start by typing your VLOOKUP formula as you normally would, inputting the proper lookup value and table array for your lookup; in this example the lookup value is ID number “5” and the table array is the green box surrounding cells B6:F14.
Step 2: When you get to the column index number input, instead of typing in a hard coded number, start typing in the MATCH formula
Step 3: For the MATCH formula’s lookup value, select the cell containing name of the column you want to return from; in this example we want to return a State, so we click on it
Step 4: For the MATCH formula’s lookup array, select the row headings of your table array; in this example it is the orange box surrounding cells B6:F6.
Step 5: Close off both your MATCH formula and your VLOOKUP formula with two parentheses (doing this simply confirms for Excel that we want an exact match for the MATCH formula and that we don’t want to use a range lookup for the VLOOKUP)
How it Works
The MATCH formula we created returns the value 4. Therefore, based on how we arranged the syntax, the VLOOKUP MATCH in this state is basically performing the same function as a VLOOKUP with a column index number of 4.
However, the key difference is that this column reference is now dynamic. If I insert or delete a column from my lookup table, my return value will stay the same. See below for an example of the difference in return values between VLOOKUP and VLOOKUP MATCH after inserting a column.
After the insertion occurs, the VLOOKUP formula’s column reference remains 4 and is now pulling from the City field. Your return value has changed from “WA” to “Seattle.” However, with VLOOKUP MATCH, since you’ve indicated by name which column you want to pull from, the column reference automatically updates and therefore you maintain the “WA” return value.
While VLOOKUP MATCH is clearly an improvement over the basic VLOOKUP, there are still drawbacks to using this formula. With VLOOKUP MATCH, every lookup must still start from left to right. This can become problematic if you want to append lookup keys to the right of your dataset. Additionally, your return values are limited to the originally table array you’ve selected. For example, if you were to append one or two columns to the right of your data set, you wouldn’t be able to lookup and return values from those columns without adjusting your table array.
If you want to use a matrix lookup formula combination without these specific limitations, consider using INDEX MATCH MATCH.