How to turn your spreadsheet into an interactive text search engine (5 simple ways)

Don't waste time looking through your spreadsheet. Here are 5 simple ways to search through your spreadsheet, finding your data just as if you were using a search engine.

Turning your spreadsheet into an interactive search engine is easy, if you have the right tools.

Searching through your spreadsheets effectively can make the difference between finding data insights, and ignoring them. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the three best ways to search through your spreadsheet, understand your data, and spend more time making data-based decisions, and less time making sense of your data.

By the end of the article, you’ll know the best data search and visualization tools for your needs.

Let’s get started.

1. Using a No-Code Solution

No-code solutions allow you all the benefits of personalized data visualization without the trouble of coding. 

Made for users looking to visualize and search through their data as simply and quickly as possible, no-code data visualization tools can do more than just show you data, and make it easy for anyone to get the insights they need.

Whereas some no-code solutions require a lengthy onboarding and personalization process, others just need your spreadsheet to get you started.

Here are the best options:

Polymer

Polymer is a simple solution to visualize your spreadsheets and search through them easily, and intuitively.

All you need to do is to upload your spreadsheet to Polymer. Polymer will then use advanced AI algorithms to analyze all your data and transform your spreadsheet into a search engine for you to interact with and customize to your liking.

Here’s how it works:

How to use Polymer to search through your spreadsheet

Using Polymer to search through your spreadsheet is easy. All you need is your spreadsheet!

Here’s how to use Polymer to turn your spreadsheet into a search engine:

  1. Log into your Polymer account.
  2. Upload your spreadsheet.
  3. Let Polymer transform into a search engine and web app for anyone to browse through.

It’s that easy!

If you want to further personalize the web search, you can adjust the settings on your Excel spreadsheet and get a customized search engine and web app. In the settings, you can customize special fields, modify tag cloud settings, add passwords, and much more.

Take a look at how this spreadsheet with data from FlixGem looks like before using Polymer:

And how it looks once you drop it onto Polymer:

Now, you can easily search through the spreadsheet with the search box, to immediately find what you’re looking for in the right context. You can also filter data using automatically-generated tags based on the original spreadsheet, like genre, sub-genre, length, director, writers, and more.

Polymer’s Spreadsheet Search Engine

Here’s how Polymer’s Search Engine works, right out of the box:

Auto-Complete Text Search

Polymer’s powerful AI allows you to get a fully-blown search engine, including auto-complete text search, right for your spreadsheet.

Forget about simple text searches where you have to remember the exact words and capitalization. Simply start typing any word on the search box, and Polymer will show you potential results matching what you’re typing.

In a matter of seconds, you can look through multiple potential results for what you’re looking for, and find exactly what you need in the context you need it. 

You can also use the autocomplete feature to find insights, and even to locate data even if you don't know what to look for.

Multi-dimensional search

Polymer understands your data far better than any other tool out there. You don’t need to manually sort your columns, tags, or any other data, Polymer does that for you.

Once you upload your spreadsheet to Polymer, the AI understands the information and sorts it all for you. The platform automatically sorts all your data according to their dimension, immediately placing the data in its right context.

A.I. Insights

Polymer’s AI does more than just sorting out your spreadsheet efficiently. With it, you can get powerful insights and see similar results with a simple click:

Similar Results data

A.I.-generated insights help you avoid data fatigue. Since Polymer helps you visualize and sort your data, you can easily process more data than ever, making it easier to make sense of it and make data-driven decisions.

Multiple visualization options

Sorting your results appropriately is very easy. Right out of the box, you can visualize your data as an interactive data grid, as cards, or as a gallery. 

That way you can forget about boring-looking spreadsheets, and sort your data the way that makes sense, right out of the box. 

Data Universe

Polymer’s brand new Data Universe allows you to browse a wide range of datasets very easily. Soon, you'll also be able to see datasets from our user community.

Sign up to Polymer for free today and see if it’s the right solution for you.

Tableau

Recently acquired by Salesforce, Tableau is a self-service analytics platform with a good reputation and a very capable platform.

The platform offers users simple and interactive dashboards that facilitate user comprehension. It features a simple drag-and-drop interface, and allows both entry-level users and more technical level users to visualize the data the way they want to.

However, its limitations compared to more advanced options may make you want to look for a smarter way to crawl through your spreadsheets.

Pros

Here are some of Tableau’s pros:

  • Multiple data import options.
  • Allows users to map their data.
  • Free limited version available for anyone.
  • Long story on data visualization.
Cons

Here are some of Tableau’s cons:

  • Very expensive paid-for versions.
  • No privacy options for data analyses in the free version.
  • Very strict and inflexible pricing.
  • Requires some training to get the most out of it.

Microsoft Power BI

Made by the Microsoft powerhouse, Microsoft Power BI is a response to data visualization tools. The platform gives users tools like interactive dashboards for easy data visualization, and APIs for developing integrations to the platforms they already use.

Although the platform is better for users who already use the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, it can still be an attractive option especially for users who are at least familiar with Microsoft products.

Pros:

Here are some of Microsoft Power BI’s pros:

  • Simple and cloud-based platform.
  • Affordable pricing.
  • Great for users of other Microsoft products.
  • Large community.
  • Backed by a large company.
Cons:

Here are some of Microsoft Power BI’s cons:

  • Can be difficult to learn.
  • Not great for bulk data management.

Qlikview

Qlikview is a platform made by Qlik that allows users to merge data from multiple sources into one data visualization tool.

The streamlined platform is easy to use, and its cloud-based nature allows users to access their information from anywhere.

Pros:

Here are some of Qlikview’s pros:

  • Streamlined and intuitive interface.
  • Good for data security.
  • Large and active ecosystem.
Cons:

Here are some of Qlikview’s cons:

  • Add-ons can make the platform very expensive.
  • Limited fields.
  • Needs a trained developer to be handled.

Sisense

Sisence is another data visualization platform that allows users looking for more advanced capabilities to control their data.

The platform comes in two parts: the analytical database, and the web interface. Although it’s made for well-versed users, the platform offers far more advanced capabilities than other options at fair prices.

Pros

Here are some of Sisence’s pros:

  • Great customer support team.
  • Advanced features and capabilities.
  • High performance, even for large datasets.
  • Friendly interface for advanced users.
Cons:

Here are some of Sisence’s cons:

  • Developing and maintaining analytic cubes may prove difficult.
  • Not great for entry-level users.
  • Limited visualization capabilities.

2. Use Coding/API based tools

Made for developers, coding and API tools allow users to develop a custom-made solution, and integrate it into the tools that they’re already using.

Here are some of the best options:

Algolia

Algolia is an API platform that allows users to develop custom-made data visualization, and integrate it into other tools.

The platform requires users to extract the data from their spreadsheets, databases and other sources, into a format that the platform recognizes. Then the data is sent to the servers to be searched into, so users can focus on coding how the data will be shown, not analyzed.

Pros:

Here are some of Algolia’s pros:

  • Powerful and robust API.
  • Good for mobile visualization.
  • Great for on-site data visualization.

Cons:

Here are some of Algolia’s cons:

  • Very limited free version.
  • Requires some UX work to achieve a good integration.
  • Not great for documentation.

Elasticsearch

Elasticsearch is a free and open search and analytics engine. The platform was first released in 2010, and it has grown to offer a set of free and open tools to digest and visualize data.

The platform is very fast, handling large amounts of data without slowing down while remaining flexible enough to be run from a user’s laptop. With it, users can zoom in and out of their data easily, perform different types of searches, and tailor the solution into a fully customized search engine for more than just spreadsheets.

Pros:

Here are some of the pros of using Elasticsearch:

  • Very fast data processing speeds.
  • Wide array of built-in features
  • Full-text search features.
  • Simple and robust data ingestion.

Cons:

Here are some of the cons of using Elasticsearch:

  • Doesn’t support CSV or XML files, forcing users to convert their data into JSON files.
  • Takes time to properly organize large amounts of data.
  • Requires a group of servers to work efficiently.

3. Filtering via facets

Faceted searches allow users to refine their searches, letting you find the results they’re looking for in a granular and focused way. Although limited by nature, filtering via facets can be very valuable when looking for small pieces of data.

How to search through spreadsheets with faceting filtering

Here’s how to set up faceting filtering:

  • Step 1: Start formatting your spreadsheet by adding a unique identifier for each piece of data you want to track.
  • Step 2: Add a heading to each facet, preferably that matches an attribute of each one. 
  • Step 3: Finally, add a row on your spreadsheet for each piece of data you'll be tracking, and enter a list of facets separated by a comma to describe each one.
  • Step 4: Once your spreadsheet is properly formatted, upload it to a faceted search platform or custom-made solution.

Pros

Here are the pros of filtering your spreadsheets via facets:

  • Perfect for finding small pieces of data.
  • Allows users to keep track of large catalogs and product lists.
  • Very flexible and user intuitive, once set up.

Cons

Here are the cons of filtering your spreadsheets via facets:

  • Very limited searching capabilities.
  • Not for data visualization.
  • Not great for finding data insights.

4. Create A Search Box Through Conditional Formatting

Conditional formatting is an old-school Excel feature that is on most spreadsheet processing apps. With it, users can find cells that meet specific criteria and apply specific formatting to them. That way, they can build a search box to search through the spreadsheet’s cells, highlight them, and find the data they’re looking for.

This is a great alternative to just using filtering because conditional formatting allows users to see contextualized data.

How to create a search box with conditional formatting

Here’s how to create a search box with conditional formatting in Excel:

  • Step 1: Label the search box to easily find it. Add a highlight color to it, and add some text to it so you can see it work. 
  • Step 2: Name the box search_box so you can use it on formulas later. 
  • Step 3: Select the data range and add a new conditional formatting rule to apply a formula.
  • Step 4: To search through the spreadsheet, use the formula =SEARCH(find_text, within_text, start), making sure to apply it to the data range you selected.
  • Step 5: Add a light field that's the same as the one on your search box to complete the rule.


Now that you have a search box, you can use it to search for text, and highlight the cells that match it.

Pros:

Here are some of the pros of conditional formatting:

  • Completely free feature on most spreadsheet editors.
  • Powerful capabilities within the spreadsheet limitations.
  • Can be used as an alerting system within the spreadsheet.
  • Works for both full words and fractions.

Cons:

Here are some of the cons of conditional formatting:

  • Very limited search options.
  • Involves some spreadsheet knowledge.
  • Can only search through and within one spreadsheet.
  • No data visualization features.

5. Use The Search Option

Finally, the simplest and easiest way to search through your spreadsheet is by using the Search option. Although extremely limited, the search option allows users to quickly find text on a spreadsheet in its right context.

How to use the search option on your spreadsheet

Here’s how to use the search option on your spreadsheet:

  • Step 1: Press Ctrl+F on Windows or Cmd+F on macOS.
  • Step 2: Start typing the text you want to find.
  • Step 3: Access more options by clicking the button next to the search bar.

Pros:

Here are the pros of using the search option:

  • Free to use
  • Very fast
  • Shows results in their context

Cons:

Here are the cons of using the search option:

  • Extremely limited capabilities
  • Can only find one thing at a time
  • No data visualization options
  • Only works for text

Conclusion

From simple search options to complex coding solutions, there are multiple ways to turn your spreadsheet into a search engine.

If you want to try a way to search through data that’s both easy to use and extremely powerful, why not give Polymer a go for free?
Create a free account and see if Polymer is the right solution for you.

Posted on
December 29, 2021
under Blog
December 29, 2021
Written by
Ash Gupta
Co-Founder & CEO of Polymer Search. Previously Tech Lead for Machine Learning at Google AdWords and a quant developer on Wall Street.

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