The Ultimate Guide to Sorting Data in Google Sheets

As marketers, we‘re constantly collecting data – from social media metrics and email open rates to SEO rankings and campaign ROI. But all those numbers can quickly become overwhelming (and not very useful) if they‘re not organized effectively. That‘s where sorting comes in.

Sorting data in a spreadsheet helps us:

  • Quickly identify top-performing content, channels, and tactics
  • Spot trends and patterns over time
  • Group similar data points together for easier analysis
  • Provide a logical framework for interpreting and presenting information

And there‘s no better tool for sorting data than Google Sheets. 59% of companies use Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) tools like Sheets, and it‘s no wonder why. The cloud-based platform is intuitive, collaborative, and packed with powerful features to help you slice and dice your data any way you need to.

In this ultimate guide, we‘ll walk through everything you need to know to become a Google Sheets sorting master. We‘ll cover:

  • The key differences between sheet sorting and range sorting (and when to use each)
  • Step-by-step instructions for common sorting tasks
  • Advanced techniques like multi-criteria and formula-based sorting
  • Best practices for collaborating on a sorted sheet
  • Keyboard shortcuts to speed up your workflow
  • Troubleshooting tips for pesky sorting problems

By the end, you‘ll be able to transform your raw marketing data into neatly organized, information-rich tables faster than you can say "pivot table." Let‘s get sorting!

Sheet Sort vs. Range Sort: What‘s the Difference?

First things first: Before you start rearranging your spreadsheet, it‘s important to understand the two main ways you can sort data in Google Sheets.

  1. Sorting a sheet applies the sorting conditions to the entire spreadsheet. Every row will be reordered based on the criteria you set for one or more columns.

  2. Sorting a range allows you to choose a specific set of cells and only sort within that selection, leaving the rest of the sheet untouched.

So when should you use each option? Here are a few common scenarios:

Use sheet sorting when:

  • You want to rearrange all the data by a primary attribute, like sorting a list of website pages from most to least pageviews
  • The data you need to sort is the only content in the sheet

Use range sorting when:

  • Your spreadsheet contains several tables and you want to sort one without disrupting the others
  • You need to sort one section of a larger dataset, like the most recent month‘s data from a multi-year spreadsheet
  • Some columns have a header row and others don‘t, and you need to sort them independently

For example, let‘s say you have a spreadsheet with two tables – one showing your most recent blog posts‘ performance metrics and one with paid ad campaign data. You could use range sorting to quickly reorganize the blog content by number of organic sessions without changing the ad data.

How to Sort Data in Google Sheets

Ready to get organized? Here‘s a step-by-step guide to sorting your marketing data in Google Sheets.

Alphabetical or numerical sorting

The most common way to sort data is by the values in a single column, either alphabetically or numerically. To do this:

  1. Open your spreadsheet and select the data you want to sort:

    • To sort the whole sheet, click the blank rectangle in the top-left corner to highlight all cells
    • To sort a range, click and drag to select specific cells (or click the first cell and Shift-click the last cell to select everything in between)
  2. In the menu bar, click Data and then choose one of the sort options that pops up:

    • For sheet sorting, pick "Sort sheet by [column name] A to Z" to sort alphabetically or "Sort sheet by [column name] Z to A" for reverse alphabetical order. To sort numerically, A to Z will put the lowest numbers first and Z to A will put the highest numbers first.
    • For range sorting, hover over "Sort range" and then choose "Sort range by [column name] A to Z" or "Z to A"
  3. Your data will automatically reorganize based on the selected column and sorting criteria.

Pro tip: You can also sort a column quickly by selecting it, clicking the right mouse button, and choosing a sort option from the pop-up menu.

Sorting by multiple columns

Sometimes one sorting criterion isn‘t enough. What if you want to sort your blog data by publish date and then by pageviews within each date? That‘s where multi-column sorting comes in:

  1. Select your data and click Data > Sort range.
  2. In the Sort range window, under the Sort by dropdown, choose the first column you want to sort by.
  3. Pick A to Z or Z to A as needed.
  4. Click "Add another sort column".
  5. Choose your next sorting column from the new dropdown and the A to Z or Z to A order.
  6. Repeat steps 4-5 to add more sort columns if needed.
  7. Click Sort to apply all your criteria.

Now your range will be organized by the first column, then within matching values, by the second column, and so on. For instance, in our blog example, the posts would be grouped by date with the most-viewed post for each date appearing first.

Sorting by a custom formula

Sometimes the sorting criteria you need isn‘t obvious from the values alone. For example, if you have a column of campaign names in a format like "City – Asset type – Date" (e.g. "Boston – Whitepaper – 2023-01-15") and you want to sort by city, the default text sorting won‘t work. Instead, you can use a formula to extract just the city name and sort by that result:

  1. Insert a new column next to the one with your original data. Give it a header like "City".

  2. In the first empty cell in the new column, use this formula to pull out the city name:

    =LEFT(A2,FIND(" - ",A2)-1)

    (Change A2 to the cell with your first value.)

  3. Hover over the bottom right corner of the cell until you see a + sign, then double click to copy the formula down the whole column.

  4. Select all the data and open the Sort range window.

  5. Under the Sort by dropdown, choose your new City column.

  6. Select A to Z or Z to A.

  7. Click Sort.

Your data will now be arranged alphabetically by city name, ignoring the rest of the original cell contents. You can use similar formula parsing to sort by any part of a cell value, like a number in brackets or the 3rd word.

Sorting by color

If you use color coding to categorize or highlight certain important rows in your datasets, you can use the cell or text color as a sorting criteria in Sheets:

  1. Select your data and open the Sort range window.
  2. Click "Add another sort column" to add a new dropdown.
  3. Hover over the paint bucket icon in the new dropdown and choose "Sort by color".
  4. Pick either the Fill color (cell background) or Text color option.
  5. Click the color you want to sort by first.
  6. Choose a sorting order – either the selected color on top or bottom.
  7. Optionally, click "Add another color" to include additional colors in the sorting hierarchy.
  8. Click Sort.

Your rows will be rearranged to put the chosen fill or text color(s) first or last. This is a handy way to group your most important data points, like putting the red-flagged low performing campaigns at the top of the spreadsheet for easier analysis.

Collaborative Sorting Best Practices

One of the biggest advantages of Google Sheets is the ability to collaborate seamlessly with your team. Multiple people can view and edit a spreadsheet simultaneously from anywhere. But a few extra considerations apply when sorting a shared sheet:

  • Double check the Share settings (click the Share button in the top-right corner) to make sure you‘re not inadvertently giving people edit access if you only want them to view the data.
  • Discuss any sorting changes with your collaborators before implementing them to avoid confusion and rework. Use the built-in Chat feature to have conversations right in the sheet.
  • If some columns or sheets shouldn‘t be sorted, you can protect them by right-clicking the column header or sheet tab and selecting "Protect range" or "Protect sheet".
  • Use named ranges to create more durable references for sorted data. That way, if rows are added or deleted, the named ranges will update automatically.
  • Take advantage of the Version History feature (File > Version history > See version history) to revert the sheet to a previous state if a collaborator makes unwanted sorting changes.

"Being able to see changes made by others and communicate directly in a spreadsheet has been a game-changer for collaborative data analysis," says John Smith, marketing analyst at Acme Corporation. "We can quickly align on how the data should be organized without a bunch of back-and-forth emails."

Keyboard Shortcuts for Faster Sorting

Once you‘ve mastered the basics of sorting, you can optimize your speed with a few keyboard shortcuts. To sort the selected data by the first column:

  • Windows/Chrome OS: Hold down Alt + Shift, then press "a" to sort A to Z or "d" to sort Z to A
  • Mac: Hold down Control + Option, then press "a" to sort A to Z or "d" to sort Z to A

To open the multi-column Sort range window, use Alt + Shift + r (Windows/Chrome OS) or Control + Option + r (Mac).

Using keyboard shortcuts can save you 1-2 seconds per sorting action. If you perform 50 sorts per day, that adds up to 6-12 minutes per week – or about 5-10 hours per year. Not too shabby!

Troubleshooting Common Sorting Issues

Even with all the sorting functionality Sheets offers, you may occasionally hit a snag. Here are some common issues and how to resolve them:

  • Sorting isn‘t working on a column: The most likely culprit is inconsistent data types. For example, if a column mixes numbers and number-like text (e.g. "123" and "456 units"), Sheets won‘t be able to parse the values correctly. To fix it, wrap the IFERROR and VALUE functions around the cell reference, like this:

     =IFERROR(VALUE(A2),A2)
  • Blank cells are sorted to the top or bottom: By default, Sheets sorts empty cells as if they have a value of 0. To change this, click Data > Sort sheet by and uncheck the box for "Treat empty cells as 0".

  • Sorting is case-sensitive: If you want to sort text values regardless of capitalization (so "apples" and "Apples" are treated the same), use the LOWER function to standardize all characters to lowercase first:

     =LOWER(A2)
  • Sorting by date isn‘t working: Make sure your date values are formatted consistently and recognized as dates by Sheets. Highlight the column, click Format > Number > Date to standardize the formatting. If you‘re using a formula to generate the date, wrap it in the DATEVALUE function to convert it to a date data type.

If you run into any other issues, check out the official Google Sheets sorting documentation or post a question on the Google Workspace Learning Center community forum for personalized help.

Advanced Sorting Techniques

For even more sorting flexibility, try out these advanced moves:

  • Sorting with SORT formulas: The SORT function lets you sort a range, multiple columns, or an entire sheet right within a formula. For example, to sort a range A1:D10 by the 3rd column (C) in descending order, you would use:

     =SORT(A1:D10,3,FALSE)

    This is especially handy for creating automatically sorted tables or re-sorting data on the fly.

  • Sorting by a custom list: If you have a specific order you want to sort by that doesn‘t follow a standard alphabetical or numerical pattern, you can create a custom list. Go to File > Settings > Spreadsheet settings and click the "Custom lists" tab. Input your custom sorting order (one value per line) and click "Save". Then when sorting your sheet, under the "A to Z" menu, select "More sort options" and pick your custom list name.

  • Sorting by format: In addition to color, you can also use other formatting attributes like bold, italic, or underline as sorting criteria. In the Sort range window, click the three-dot icon in the top-right and choose "Add sort column". Under the new dropdown, hover over the paint bucket icon and pick "Sort by format". Then select your condition.

  • Random sorting: Need to quickly jumble your data? In the Sort range window, under the Sort by dropdown, scroll to the bottom and choose "Random".

Putting It All Together

Phew, that was a lot of information! Let‘s recap the key takeaways:

  • Sorting data in Google Sheets helps you quickly identify trends, group similar values, and analyze your information more effectively.
  • You can sort an entire sheet or a specific range of cells.
  • Sort alphabetically or numerically by one column, or use multiple columns for more precise ordering.
  • Use formulas, color coding, or other formatting to sort by criteria beyond just the cell values.
  • Be extra communicative and methodical when sorting a shared spreadsheet to avoid stepping on toes.
  • Keyboard shortcuts can significantly speed up your sorting workflow.
  • If you encounter issues, double check your data formatting and seek out help in the documentation or forums.

Here‘s an example of how sorting can help you glean insights from a real marketing dataset:

Campaign Leads Conversion Rate Revenue
A 500 2% $5,000
B 1000 2% $10,000
C 750 4% $15,000
D 250 5% $6,250

At first glance, it looks like Campaign B is generating the most leads. But if we sort by Conversion Rate in descending order, a different story emerges:

Campaign Leads Conversion Rate Revenue
D 250 5% $6,250
C 750 4% $15,000
B 1000 2% $10,000
A 500 2% $5,000

Now we can see that while Campaign D has the fewest leads, it‘s actually converting at the highest rate. And Campaign C is generating the most total revenue thanks to a combination of high leads and high conversion.

Sorting allows us to surface these insights and prioritize our efforts accordingly. Pretty powerful for a few clicks, right?

So the next time you‘re staring down a wall of data, don‘t be intimidated – get sorting! With these techniques in your back pocket, you‘ll be able to transform even the most unruly dataset into a lean, mean, decision-driving machine.

Happy sorting!