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Google Sheets is the go-to solution for any team that wants to use a free and intuitive platform for collaboration. This tool is especially useful for tasks that entail collecting, storing, and analyzing data in a simple and efficient way.

However, one of the most common issues when collaborating on the same file is losing important data or not being able to go back to a previous version. Unlike Google Docs or other desktop productivity tools, Google Sheets doesn’t offer a specific feature to track changes.

In this article, you’ll learn how to track changes in Google Sheets using various methods, including notification rules, version history, conditional formatting, and tracking changes in a specific cell.

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How to track changes in Google Sheets with notification rules?

If you want to stay up to date on changes made to your Google Sheets, you can set notification rules according to the type of change and frequency of notification. This is how you can track changes in Google Sheets through notifications.

  1. 1. Open the Google Sheet and go to Tools > Notification rules.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Notification Rules
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Notification Rules
  1. 2. In the “Set notification rules”, select “Any changes are made” to enjoy the same functionality as the “Track Changes” feature offers in other tools. Under “Notify me with…”, you can set the frequency of notifications. Here, I have selected “Email - right away”. Click “Save” once you finish.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Set notification rules
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Set notification rules

In case you want to avoid receiving too many emails, we recommend setting notification rules to “Email - daily digest”. 

  1. 3. As soon as you save the rule, Google Sheets will prompt you to “Edit” or “Delete” the rules you have set. You can also add additional rules here. Click “Done” when finished.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Edit notification rules
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Edit notification rules

Let’s now see how you can track changes with version control.

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How to track changes in Google Sheets with version history?

An alternative tracking method in Google Sheets is through “Version history”. This allows you to access all the information about the change, including who made it and when.

  1. 1. Go to File > Version history > See version history.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets See version history
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - See version history
  1. 2. On the “Version history” panel to the far right, you’ll be able to see all previous versions, including the user responsible for the changes, the date, and the time.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Version panel
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Version panel
  1. 3. To get a full view of all the versions, click on the drop-down arrow to the left of the information to expand the version history data.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Expand detailed versions
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Expand detailed versions
  1. 4. To achieve full version control, you can save a specific version by renaming it. By default, Google Sheets names versions according to the date and time. You can rename it by simply double-clicking on the version name.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Double click to rename
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Double-click to rename

Note that Google Sheets will only allow you to save up to 15 versions in total.

  1. 5. If you select a previous version of your file, Google will allow you to restore it, as well as naming it or making a copy. To do so, click on the “⁝” icon, to the right of the version date and time.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Select vertical ellipsis
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Select vertical ellipsis

Now that you know how to use the “Version history” feature let’s see how to use Google’s recently incorporated feature to track changes in a specific cell.

How to track changes in a specific cell in Google Sheets?

If you want to track changes in a specific cell, Google Sheets has a built-in feature. This is how you can quickly access it.

  1. 1. Right-click on the cell you would like to track changes on and select the option “Show edit history” from the drop-down menu.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Show edit history
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Show edit history
  1. 2. To browse through the edits made to the cell, simply click on the arrows to move back and forth.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Browse through edits
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Browse through edits

In just a few steps, you can access the relevant information related to a specific change. This feature is particularly useful for cells that contain specific formulae or more sensitive information. Let’s see how conditional formatting can help you keep track of changes easily by highlighting and color-coding cells.

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How to track changes in Google Sheets using conditional formatting?

In other articles, we have also covered how conditional formatting is a great way to highlight cells through color-coding or other formatting conditions. We will now illustrate how to track changes easily with highlighted cells and color-coding.

  1. 1. Select the cells you would like to format and go to Format > Conditional formatting.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Conditional formatting
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Conditional formatting
  1. 2. The default selection of the formatting rules will allow you to identify any changes in cells, so leave it as it is.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Format rules
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Format rules
  1. 3. In “Formatting style”, select the format style for the cell background color or font. Click “Done” to apply the conditional formatting rules.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Formatting style
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Formatting style

Now, if a user deletes the content in a specific cell, the green fill will disappear, indicating a change.

However, if a user changes the cell value rather than deleting it altogether, you will need to choose one of the previous methods to track the change.

How to turn off track changes in Google Sheets?

The only tracking methods that we have seen so far that would require removal are notification and conditional formatting rules. As we explained how to remove the notification rule previously in the article, let’s see how to remove the conditional formatting rule.

  1. 1. Go to Format > Conditional Formatting to enable the “Conditional format rules” pane.
  2. 2. Select the bin icon next to the rule you want to remove.
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets Formatting style 2
How To Track Changes in Google Sheets - Formatting style

Although the methods outlined so far are useful, most users find add-ons or extensions as the easiest solution to track changes. If you would like to rely on one method to ensure full control of your data, this is what a tool like Layer can do for you.

How to monitor and review Google Sheets changes?

Layer is an add-on that equips finance teams with the tools to increase efficiency and data quality in their FP&A processes on top of Google Sheets. Share parts of your Google Sheets, monitor, review and approve changes, and sync data from different sources – all within seconds.

Using Layer, you can:

  • Share & Collaborate: Automate your data collection and validation through user controls.
  • Automate & Schedule: Schedule recurring data collection and distribution tasks.
  • Integrate & Sync: Connect to your tech stack and sync all your data in one place.
  • Visualize & Report: Generate and share reports with real-time data and actionable decisions.

Limited Time Offer: Sign up today and get free access to Layer, including all the paid features, so you can start managing, automating, and scaling your FP&A processes on top of Google Sheets!

Conclusion

Although Google Sheets does not offer an internal feature to track changes as it does for other tools like Google Docs, there are several methods you can use to track any changes in Google Sheets. These are great for tasks that require multiple users editing data all at once, so you can easily identify changes made by each user. 

This article has explained how to track changes in Google Sheets by applying flexible solutions as an alternative to a native track changes feature. These alternative solutions include enabling notification rules, accessing the version history, setting up a conditional formatting rule, or using the built-in feature to track changes made to a specific cell. Lastly, we offer Layer as the best alternative to the different tracking methods.

If you would like to learn about tracking changes in Excel, we recommend reading our blog article on how to share an Excel file.

Hady ElHady
Hady is Content Lead at Layer.

Hady has a passion for tech, marketing, and spreadsheets. Besides his Computer Science degree, he has vast experience in developing, launching, and scaling content marketing processes at SaaS startups.

Originally published Apr 13 2022, Updated Sep 23 2022