How to Repair Your Outlook Search When It’s Not Working: A Comprehensive Guide

We’ve all been there. You’re trying to find a specific email amidst the deluge in your inbox, and you confidently type in keywords into the Outlook search bar, fully expecting to retrieve that elusive email in an instant. But then, nothing shows up. The search feature in Microsoft Outlook, once a power tool, seems to have broken down. Instead of propelling you forward, it leaves you stranded in a sea of emails. But don’t panic, it’s easy to repair your Outlook Search when it breaks.

As frustrating as it may be, this is a rather common issue experienced by Microsoft Outlook users worldwide. It’s important to remember that technology, while an incredible asset, is not infallible. Issues such as these may crop up from time to time, but fortunately, they’re not insurmountable problems. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore eight practical ways to troubleshoot and repair your Outlook Search. Soon, you’ll be back to pacing through your emails in no time.

1. Repair Your Outlook Search through Running the Windows Search Troubleshooter

Before diving into Outlook-specific fixes, let’s use one of the many Windows troubleshooters. Windows 10 comes with a variety of built-in troubleshooting tools designed to automatically fix various computer problems. The Windows search troubleshooter is one such handy tool and can often resolve problems with the search functionality. Here’s how to run it:

  • Go to Start > Settings > Update & Security.
  • Choose Troubleshoot, proceed to Additional troubleshooters, find the Search and indexing option, and click Run the troubleshooter.
Repair Your Outlook Search

2. Rebuild the Outlook Index

To get you started, we’ll jump straight into an Outlook search fix that often resolves the issue straight out of the gate. There are two ways of doing this: Using Programs and Features, and the Outlook Index Repair Menu Option. Both are quick and usually work. Let’s look at both methods:

Method 1: Use Programs and Features

To rebuild the Outlook index when the search isn’t working, follow these steps:

  • Type “control” into the Windows search bar and select the best match to open the Control Panel.
  • Navigate to Programs > Programs & Features.
  • Scroll down and select Outlook 2019, Microsoft Office [your version], or Microsoft 365.
  • Choose Change from the top menu. You can now choose Quick Repair or Online Repair.
  • Choose Quick Repair, then Repair, to fix the Outlook indexing issue without using your internet connection.
  • Let the process complete, then restart your system.

Method 2: Use the Outlook Index Repair Menu Option

There is a second Outlook index repair menu option, you just need to know where to find it:

  • Open Outlook, then select File > Options > Search.
  • Select Indexing Options, followed by Advanced.
  • Finally, select Rebuild, and click OK. This might take a moment. After the rebuild is complete, restart your system.
Repair Your Outlook Search

Additionally, remember to double-check the indexing status. Within Outlook, type “search” into the Tell me toolbar. Now, select Search Tools> Indexing status and see how many items are awaiting the index. You can still use Outlook search while the remaining items get indexed, but you may encounter some omissions.

3. Check Outlook Index Locations

Another crucial check involves ensuring that Outlook is on the list of indexed locations. Here’s how to do this:

  • Open Outlook and head to File > Options > Search > Indexing Options.
  • Select Modify from the Indexing Options panel.
  • Make sure there is a check alongside Microsoft Outlook, then press OK.
  • Restart your system.
Repair Your Outlook Search

4. Repair Your Outlook Search Using the Registry

The Windows Registry, a database where Windows and many programs store configuration settings, can also be used to repair Outlook search:

  1. Initiating the Run Command

    Initiate the Run command by pressing the “Windows Key + R” on your keyboard.

  2. Opening the Registry Editor

    In the Run command window, type “regedit” and then hit “Enter“.

  3. Accessing the Search Function in Registry Editor

    Once the Registry Editor is open, press “Ctrl + F” to activate the search function.

  4. Finding the Relevant Registry Key

    Paste the following registry key in the search box: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Search.
    Press “Enter” to start the search.

  5. Creating a New Dword

    Once the search is complete, right-click within the right-hand panel of the found registry key and select “New Dword (32-bit)“.

  6. Naming and Assigning Value to the New Dword

    Name the new Dword as “PreventIndexingOutlook“. Assign the value “0” to this Dword.

  7. Saving Changes

    Click “OK” to save your changes and close the dialog box.

  8. Restarting the System

    Restart your system to apply the changes.

Please note: Making changes to your system’s registry can cause serious issues if not done correctly. Always ensure that you have a backup of your system and your registry before making any changes.

5. Update Microsoft Office 2019/Microsoft Office 2021

Outlook search issues might be resolved by updating Office to the latest version. Here’s how to do it:

  • Open Outlook. Head to File > Office Account (or just Account for other Office programs).
  • Check under Product Information for the Update Options drop-down menu.
  • Select Update Now if available and let the process complete.

If you do not see any update options at all and there is only an About button, consider various factors such as whether you’re running a volume license issued by your workplace, whether you’ve made changes to your system Group Policy, or if someone else has installed a pirate version of Office on your system. You can always manually install a Microsoft Office update via their Office Updates page.

6. Repair Your Outlook Personal Folder File (.PST)

Outlook search may encounter issues if your Outlook personal folder file (.PST) is corrupt. You can repair this using the Inbox Repair tool (scanpst.exe), but the location of this tool and your PST file can depend on your Outlook version and whether you fetch email using POP3 or IMAP.

Moreover, you need to be aware of your PST file’s location. If you’re using Outlook 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, or newer versions, you should find your personal folder file at:

C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook.

If there is only an OST file at this location, it indicates that you are using IMAP instead of POP3 to retrieve your email. Once you’ve located both scanpst.exe and your PST file, right-click scanpst.exe and select Run as administrator. Click Browse, paste your personal folder file location into the address bar, select the relevant account, press Open, and then Start. This process can take a few minutes but should fix your Outlook search problems.

7. Check the Outlook Indexing Group Policy Setting

This fix is mainly applicable to Windows 10 Pro and Windows 11 Pro users, as Home users do not have access to the Windows Local Group Policy Editor panel.

Type gpedit in the Start menu search bar and select the best match. Navigate to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Search. Check Default excluded paths and Prevent indexing certain paths for alterations regarding Microsoft Outlook. If the policy state is set to Not Configured, you know this isn’t where your Outlook search problems stem from.

Outlook computer work

Explore our other articles:

8. Reinstall Outlook

As a last resort, you can uninstall and then reinstall Microsoft Outlook. This solution is time-consuming and not ideal but has been reported to fix persistent Outlook search issues for some users.

Conclusion

These eight fixes should take care of almost every Outlook search failure. If your Outlook search isn’t working, don’t panic. Just work your way through the list. In my experience, rebuilding and refreshing the Outlook search index usually gets things moving again. If not, repairing the Outlook personal file is another reliable option. Always remember that technology is there to serve us, and with a bit of patience and the right tools, we can overcome any temporary setbacks.

Of course, it’s also crucial to remember that staying updated with software patches and maintaining regular system checks can prevent such issues from arising in the first place. Regular maintenance is the key to a smoothly running system. In the case of Outlook search, a well-maintained system with updated software significantly reduces the chances of encountering a malfunction. Even if you do come across an issue, you now have the knowledge and confidence to tackle it head-on. It is empowering to understand that we are not at the mercy of our digital tools, but rather, with a little know-how, we can master them.

Leave a Comment