How To Compare Data and Highlight Differences Between Columns in Google Sheets

Comparing data between columns in Google Sheets is an extremely useful skill that allows you to analyze datasets and identify discrepancies or duplicates. With a few simple steps, you can leverage Google Sheets’ powerful conditional formatting tools to visually highlight differences between two columns.

Why Compare Columns in Google Sheets

Here are some common reasons you may need to compare data columns in Sheets:

  • Find discrepancies or errors: By comparing two columns containing similar data, you can highlight differences that may indicate data entry errors that need to be fixed.
  • Identify duplicates: Comparing columns is an easy way to find duplicate records that need to be removed.
  • Analyze data changes over time: If you have multiple versions of a dataset, comparing the columns can reveal insights into how the data has changed.
  • Compare data from different sources: If you have two datasets containing similar information, comparing them can show where they differ and help identify potential issues with data integrity.

Step-by-Step Guide to Comparing Columns

Comparing two columns in Sheets to highlight differences is simple with conditional formatting. Follow these steps:

1. Insert the Data to Compare

Start by inserting the two columns of data you want to compare into your sheet. Insert them into adjacent columns so they are easy to analyze.

Make sure the columns have the same headers and data types to ensure an accurate comparison.

Compare two columns in Google Sheets

2. Select the Columns

Select both columns that you want to compare. Click on the header of the first column, scroll to the bottom while holding shift, then click the header of the second column.

3. Open the Conditional Formatting Sidebar

In the menu bar, go to Format > Conditional Formatting to open the conditional formatting sidebar.

4. Apply a New Rule

In the sidebar, click Add new rule.

5. Enter the Formula

For the custom formula, enter:


This checks if the cell in column A does NOT match the cell in column B on the same row.

Compare columns formula

6. Format the Differences

Choose the formatting style to highlight differences, such as cell fill color.

7. Finish and Apply

Click Done to apply the conditional formatting rule.

The differences between the columns will now be highlighted!

Highlighted differences

Tips for Effective Column Comparison

Follow these tips when comparing columns in Google Sheets:

Clean your data first – Make sure both columns are properly formatted and any empty cells are filled out before comparing. Data inconsistencies can impact comparison accuracy.

Check for sorted data – Running comparisons on unsorted data may lead to inaccurate duplicate identification. Sort columns before comparing.

Compare one column at a time – Comparing more than 2 columns simultaneously can get confusing. Stick to 1:1 column comparisons.

Use absolute references for columns – Use absolute column references like $A$2 so that formulas don’t get messed up when copied.

Next Steps After Comparing Columns

Once you’ve compared two columns and highlighted the differences, here are some next actions you can take:

  • Review highlighted differences to correct data inaccuracies.
  • Sort and filter to isolate duplicate records, then remove them.
  • Use the highlighted differences for further data analysis.
  • Export your changes to update incorrect data in another system.

Comparing columns may be the first step, but it enables you to clean up data issues and unlock further insights.

Following this simple conditional formatting process makes comparing datasets extremely easy. Try utilizing column comparison in your Google Sheets to step up your data analysis game.