How to use Google Search to solve Excel problems?

Google search can be very helpful for the most part when it comes to solving Excel problems. Typically 99% of Excel programs that you run is the same with the rest of the population out there. And fortunately, there are a lot of website that shows you how to solve Excel problems yourself, and forums that do the same thing. The key to getting to these websites is to type in the right keyword that people use when describing the problem or solution.

Got Excel Keywords?

Search key parts of the error message

When you come across a nasty error, the error message is one of the easiest ways to search for the answer on the Internet. For example:

The Circular Reference Warning error message

I would type “Circular Reference Warning” in Excel 2010 on Google and here is what I see:

Google search results on "Circular Reference Warning" Excel 2010

Note that you do not have to type the entire error message. Type just enough words unique to the error.

Other tips:

  • You should skip out the part of the error message that is specific to you.
  • Sometimes the error message includes a specific file name or cell address – skip those out too, as other people would have a different file name or address.

This trick actually works for most other computer programs. Because if you got an error message for a problem, chances are someone else did already and they have posted it on the Internet.

But what if you problem doesn’t have an error message?

Got the function name?

Excel functions are very well covered on the web. Just type any function, like vlookup in Excel or match and index in Excel, and almost every search result on your front page will give you the information you’re looking for.

Forgot the function name?

Most of the time it will work if you just describe it. In here, let’s use an example of rounding. Search terms like Round numbers up in Excel or Rounding in Excel will get you results right away.

Crowded out by a similar search term?

But it gets more tricky when you are trying to round by the thousands or millions in the formatting instead of changing the value of the cell itself. That’s because the previous search results (about the rounding functions) crowd out the actual results you want. So, searching Round formatting in Excel or Rounding by formatting in Excel do yield some good results, but the results are not as obvious as it was previously. To do that, you’d have to be creative and think of another description that people would use to describe the problem. Rounding by thousands in Excel or Rounding by millions in Excel will do the job much better.

If all fails?

So after searching for the problem description or objective for an extensive period of time (15 minutes for me), and still not seeing a solution, I would proceed to post at an active Excel forum. (Yes, you can search on Google for that too.) When posting at a forum, be polite, courteous, and very clear about the issue. Try to give as much description as you can (or even a screenshot) to a point where you feel the reader will understand what you are trying to say. Do not post the same question on multiple forums. It’s called “cross posting” and is an offence and major pet peeve for most forum members.

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