Five things I love about Excel…

Posted: 11th May 2015


By: Helen Culshaw

When I tell people that we are an internet marketing business, they usually imagine that we have a suite of hi-tech software to help us with this. While this is true, we probably make even more use of the fantastically useful Microsoft Excel! In our business, we use Excel all the time. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s the tool we use most often, with the exception of email and the web.

Before I started the business, ten years ago, I would already have said that I was ‘good with Excel’. However, since then I’ve learned so many new ways to use it that I now realise I’ve still only really scratched the surface. Here are five ways that Excel has helped me to run my business – hopefully some of them may help you too.

Text to Columns

Have you ever been in the situation where you needed to do split one column into two columns?

Imagine you have a column where you have peoples’ names such as ‘Fred Bloggs’, ‘Freda Jones’ and so on, and you want to separate out the first names from the surnames. What you can do is the following:

  • Select the column in the spreadsheet
  • Click on the ‘Data’ tab
  • Press the ‘Text to Columns’ button
  • Select ‘Delimited’ and when asked to select the delimiters that the data contains, choose ‘space’. Click finish.

You should now have a worksheet with separate columns for first name and surname! Of course, you may have a few that haven’t quite worked – people who have two first names, for example, can complicate things – but you will have saved a lot of time overall.

Pivot tables

Until a year ago I had never set up a pivot table. Now I don’t know how I would live without them. What is a pivot table? It allows you take a sheet of data and ‘turn it round’ – look at it in a different format. It can be really useful for summarising data. I don’t have space here to give step-by-step instructions on setting up pivot tables, but I do urge you to give them a try, if you haven’t already. Just put your cursor anywhere within a sheet of data, click on Insert > Pivot table, and follow the wizard through to get an idea of what it is all about.

The VLOOKUP function

Again, this is something I discovered a few years back and don’t know how I ever managed without it.

I use it in cases where I need to combine two sets of data in some way. For example, if I have one sheet with search engine position data for a set of phrases, and another sheet where I have search engine traffic data for that same set of phrases, and I want to combine the two.

The VLOOKUP function will match the two sets of phrases against each other and pull data from one sheet into the other.

Again, I don’t have space here to tell you about it in detail, but do read up about it if this sounds like the kind of thing you might find useful. I use it almost on a daily basis.

The Format Painter

This is such a useful function, but I still find that many people don’t know it exists, or understand what it does. If you want to copy the formatting from one part of a sheet to another part, so for example you want to use the same fonts in one column as you have done in another, select the area where you like the formatting and click on the paintbrush icon on the toolbar, then select the area that you want to reformat. Hey presto!

Mail merge

I’m pretty sure that most people reading this will know what mail merge is. However, are you using it as much as you could be? I save myself a lot of time each year by keeping all my addresses for Christmas cards in a spreadsheet. I then update the list once a year and mail merge it into Word to generate labels for all my cards. There are so many things you can do using Excel sheets and mail merge – don’t forget it is there!

Helen Culshaw runs Ascendancy Internet Marketing, a Shropshire based internet marketing consultancy. Although addicted to Excel, she does not provide Excel advice as a service – so if you need any help with Excel or any other program, try searching the Rural Marketplace for details of fellow WiRE members who could help you.