Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Returning Blanks with VLOOKUP.

Returning Blanks with VLOOKUP

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 20, 2018)


When you use VLOOKUP to return a value from a data table, the function does not differentiate between blanks and zero values in what it returns. If the source value is zero, then VLOOKUP returns 0. Likewise, if the source is blank, then VLOOKUP still returns the value 0. For some purposes, this may not do—you need to know whether the cell being looked up is blank or if it really contains a 0.

There are many different solutions that could be pursued. One solution relies on the fact that even though VLOOKUP returns a 0, it will correctly report the length of the source cell. Thus, if you use the LEN function on what is returned, if the source cell is empty the LEN function returns 0, but if the source contains a 0 then LEN returns 1 (the 0 value is 1 character in length). This means that you could use the following formula in place of a standard VLOOKUP:


In this case if the length of what VLOOKUP returns is 0, then the formula returns a blank. Only if the length is not 0 is the result of the VLOOKUP returned.

There are other variations on this same concept, each testing a different characteristic of the data being referenced and then making the decision as to whether to actually look up that data. (As you can surmise, the variation you develop for your needs will depend on the "different characteristics of the data being referenced.")

Here's a variation, for example, that directly tests to see if the source is blank:


The formula can also be modified to check the source cell for multiple conditions. For instance, this variation returns a blank if the source is blank or if the source contains an error value (such as #N/A):


ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (12518) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel here: Returning Blanks with VLOOKUP.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


Automatic Question Numbering

Want to use Word's numbering capabilities to help you number a series of questions? Here's how to accomplish the task as ...

Discover More

Using GEOMEAN with a Large List

When performing a statistical analysis on a large dataset, you may want to use GEOMEAN to figure out the geometric mean ...

Discover More

Changing Chart Type

Excel allows you to add two distinct types of charts to your workbooks: embedded or chart sheets. You can switch between ...

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More ExcelTips (ribbon)

Finding the Lowest Numbers

Need to find the lowest numbers in a range of values? It's easy to do using the SMALL worksheet function, or you can use ...

Discover More

The EDATE Function

Want to figure a date a certain number of months in the future or past? The EDATE function may be just what you need for ...

Discover More

Counting the Number of Blank Cells

If you need to count the number of blank cells in a range, the function to use is COUNTBLANK. This tip discusses the ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 1 + 5?

2018-01-22 00:05:39

Alex B

The only issue with both of these
they both will always return a text result, so all numbers will returned will be text.
(the original issue referenced distinguishing between blank and zero)
So you may still want to use one of the longer versions.

2018-01-20 15:28:01

Michael (Micky) Avidan

Wouldn't: =VLOOKUP(B1,D:E,2,0)&"" provide the same result ?
Michael (Micky) Avidan
“Microsoft® Answers" - Wiki author & Forums Moderator
“Microsoft®” Excel MVP – Excel (2009-2018)

This Site

Got a version of Excel that uses the ribbon interface (Excel 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Excel, visit our ExcelTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in ExcelTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.