How to Fix Outlook Search Problems [Comprehensive Guide]

Summary: This blog outlines Microsoft Outlook search problems such as ‘Outlook search not working’ and ‘returns no or incomplete results’. It also describes workarounds on ‘how to fix Outlook problems’. These workarounds apply to Microsoft Office 365, Outlook 2019, 2016, and 2013.

Microsoft Outlook features a search option that helps you find email items based on keywords. You may further add filters to your Outlook search function to locate specific email items much more quickly. Sometimes, you encounter problems with the Outlook search function such as Outlook search does not find any matches and won’t work.

When Outlook search does not work properly, you may experience any of these issues:

  • Outlook fails to return any search results
  • Outlook search not showing all results
  • Outlook search not showing recent emails or can’t find older emails
  • Outlook search does not find any matches
  • Search tab not working, turns grey (specific to Outlook 2016)

How to Fix ‘Outlook Search not Working?’

Following are some workarounds that you can try to resolve Outlook 2016 search not working issues:

  • Fix Outlook Indexing Status
  • Fix Incomplete Search Results Problem
  • Fix Greyed Out Search Bar in Outlook 2016
  • Fix Personal Folder Outlook Data File (.PST)
  • Disable Add-ins
  • Inspect Windows Search Service
  • Fix Outlook 2016 Search Issue via Windows Registry
Note: In case, the Outlook search bar isn’t visible, perform the below steps or else proceed with the following workarounds. Go to File > Options > Customize. Select All Tabs under ‘Choose commands from section.From the list of tab selections, select ‘Search, click ‘Add, and then click ‘OK’ (refer to Fig 1 below).
outlook search not working
Fig 1: Add Search bar to Outlook

Note: If you find that problem is due to damage in an Outlook PST file then, try PST file recovery software to make Outlook error-free and to fix “outlook 2016 search not working” related problems.

1. Fix Outlook Indexing Status

When the Outlook indexing tool is not working or not functioning properly, it may not show recent emails in search results. Further, it may display results like Outlook search by date or may show that items based on search criteria waiting to be indexed in the output panel. This indicates a problem with the Outlook Indexing services.

To check the indexing status in Outlook 2016, follow these steps:

  • Open Outlook 2016 and click on ‘Search’ bar.
  • Click ‘Search Tools drop-down and choose ‘Indexing Status…’
Outlook Indexing status
Fig 2: Search Tools
  • Click ‘OK’ when the Outlook has finished indexing all of your items‘ message is displayed within the ‘Indexing Status’ dialog box.
Loading Outlook Index Status
Fig 3: Loading Outlook Index Status

When the indexing is complete, Outlook will display mailboxes awaiting to be indexed. You can use the search function but may not find the desired mails or get incomplete results due to incomplete indexing status. So, if the indexing does not finish, try rebuilding the Outlook index.

Steps to Rebuild the Outlook Index

There are two different ways to rebuild the Outlook index and resolve the Outlook 2016 search issue.

a. Repair MS Office Installation

  • Go to Control Panel>Programs>Programs and Features.
  • Click on Outlook 2016 or Microsoft Office [VERSION].
  • Click the ‘Change’ button at the top.
Repair Outlook or MS Office Installation
Fig 4: Repair Outlook or MS Office Installation
  • Select ‘Repair’ and click ‘Continue’.
Repair Outlook Installation to fix Outlook Search issue
Fig 5: Repair Outlook Installation
  • This will begin repairing MS Office or Outlook 2016 installation that may fix the Outlook 2016 search issue.

b. Using Outlook Index Repair Option

Outlook 2016 also features ‘Indexing options…’ to fix Outlook index related issues. Follow these steps to rebuild the Outlook Index and fix the Outlook search problem:

  • In Outlook 2016, go to File > Options > Search.
  • Click on the Indexing Options… button.
Rebuilding Outlook Index
Fig 6: Rebuilding Outlook Index
  • Click ‘Microsoft Outlook and then click Advanced button.
MS Outlook Index status
Fig 7: MS Outlook Index status
  • Click Rebuild’ and then click OK’.
Option to Rebuild MS Outlook 2016 Index
Fig 8: Rebuild MS Outlook 2016 Index
  • Click ‘OK’ to continue with Outlook Index Rebuild.
Confirm Outlook Index Rebuild
Fig 9: Confirm Outlook Index Rebuild
  • Wait for the Indexing process to complete.
Outlook Indexing in progress
Fig 10: Indexing in progress

Once the Indexing process is complete, check if the ‘Microsoft Outlook search not working’ issue is resolved. Once the Indexing process is complete, check if the ‘Microsoft Outlook search not working’ issue is resolved.

TIP: You may also search and open ‘Indexing Options’ from the Control Panel (as shown in the image below).

Access Indexing Options via Control Panel
Fig 11: Access Indexing Options

2. Fix Incomplete Search Results Problem

If the search results are incomplete or missing older email items, apply the following methods:

a. Increase Email Sync Slider

This will enable Outlook to sync and index the older emails that may be missing in the Outlook search results. Follow these steps:

  • Open Outlook and go to File > Account Settings > Account Settings.
Access Outlook Account settings
Fig 12: Access Outlook Account settings
  • Select your email account and then click Change’.
Change the Offline Settings in MS Outlook
Fig 13: Change the Offline Settings
  • Drag the slider to All and then click Next’.
Move Slider to ALL to enable search of older mails
Fig 14: Move Slider to ALL
  • Click OK when a prompt appears.
 Confirmation message for slider setting
Fig 15: Confirmation message
  • Click Finish to close the window and then restart Outlook.
Finishing Outlook Offline setting wizard
Fig 16: Finishing Offline setting wizard
  • After restarting, Outlook will index all the mail items. Once done, you can search for the desired mails.
Outlook syncing older emails (Status Bar)
Fig 17: Outlook syncing older emails

b. Allow Search to Display All Results

When you enter a search query in Outlook, it displays 250 search results by default. To show all results, follow these steps:

NOTE: This will show you all results but the search will be slower.

  • Open Outlook and go to File>Options>Search.
Clear Improve search speed
Fig 18: Clear Improve search speed … checkbox
  • Unselect the Improve search speed by limiting the number of results shown’ checkbox.
  • Click OK and restart the Outlook.

TIP: You may click ‘Include messages from Deleted items folder …’ checkbox to improve search results.

3. Fix Greyed Out Search bar in Outlook 2016

To fix the greyed out search bar, you need to repair the MS Office or Outlook 2016 installation. To do so, follow these steps:

  • In Windows 10 PC, go to Settings > Apps. 
  • Search and click on Microsoft Office.
  • Click ‘Modify’ and then select ‘Repair’ option.
Modify MS Office Installation
Fig 19: Modify MS Office Installation
  • Click Continue to repair the MS Office installation which may fix the greyed out search bar issue in Outlook 2016.
Repair MS Office Installation to fix Outlook issues
Fig 20: Repair MS Office Installation

4. Fix Personal Folder Outlook Data File (.PST)

A corrupt Outlook data file (.pst) can cause severe issues including Outlook search problems. However, Outlook provides an Inbox Repair Tool or SCANPST.EXE to analyze and repair a corrupt or damaged PST file. The tool comes integrated with all the versions of Microsoft Outlook email client.

The default PST file location in Windows is: C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook

To access and use the SCANPST.EXE tool, follow these steps:

  • Open File Explorer and go to C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office16\

Or C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office16\

Access SCANPST.EXE tool
Fig 21: Access SCANPST.EXE tool
  • Find and double-click on SCANPST.EXE
  • Click Browse to choose the corrupt Outlook PST file.

NOTE: SCANPST.EXE supports the PST file of size up to 2GB. It doesn’t support an encrypted PST file.

Browse Outlook Data File (PST)
Fig 22: Browse Outlook Data File (PST)
  • Click on the Start’ button to begin the Outlook data file scan process.
SCANPST.EXE scanning the PST file
Fig 23: SCANPST.EXE scanning the PST file
  • After the scan, if the Inbox Repair Tool detects any error, it displays the following screen. Click ‘Repair.’
Scan result displays errors in PST
Fig 24: Scan result displays errors in PST
  • After the repair, the following message is displayed. Click ‘OK’ to close it.
PST repair complete
Fig 25: PST repair complete

Now you may restart Outlook and check if the Outlook search problem is resolved.

Alternatively, you can use a PST repair tool such as Stellar Repair for Outlook to fix a corrupt PST file. The software can also fix oversized, encrypted, or severely corrupt PST Outlook data file.

It not only helps resolve Outlook search problems by fixing corrupt PST files but also lets you save the repaired PST mail items to various file formats such as MSG, PDF, HTML, RTF, and EML.

5. Disable Add-ins

Outlook add-ins help add features and improve productivity. However, sometimes an incompatible or outdated Outlook add-in can cause chaos and lead to issues such as Outlook crash, Outlook not responding, or Outlook search problems.

Follow these steps to disable Outlook add-ins and fix the Outlook search issue:

  • In Outlook, and go to File > Options > Add-ins.
  • In Manage list, select COM Add-ins and click ‘Go’.
Steps to disable Add-ins in Outlook
Fig 26: Disable Add-ins in Outlook
  • Clear the checkbox of the add-ins that you want to remove, and then click OK.
Clear checkbox of all add-ins
Fig 27: Clear checkbox of add-ins
  • Restart Outlook.

6. Inspect Windows Search Service Status

To inspect Windows Search Service status, follow the given steps:

  • Press Windows+R, type services.msc, and click ‘OK’.
Access Services.msc
Fig 28: Access Services.msc
  • Scroll down and find ‘Windows Search’.
Check Windows Search status
Fig 29: Check Windows Search status
  • Check if its ‘Status’ is ‘Running’. If not, right-click on ‘Windows Search’ and select ‘Start.
Starting Windows Search service
Fig 30: Starting Windows Search service
  • Then double click on ‘Windows Search and select ‘Automatic (Delayed Start)’ in ‘Startup Type drop-down.
Changing Startup Type of Windows Search Properties
Fig 31: Startup Type of Windows Search
  • Click OK and close all windows.
  • Restart Windows PC and Outlook to check if the Outlook search problem is resolved.

7. Fix Outlook Search Issue via Windows Registry

  • Press Windows+R, type Regedit and click ‘OK’. This opens the Registry Editor.
  • Paste the following registry key location in the address bar and press ‘Enter’.

Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Search

  • Right-click on ‘Windows Search’ and select New>Dword (32-bit) Value.
Adding new registry to enable Outlook Search
Fig 32: Adding new registry- Outlook Search
  • Name the Dword as ‘PreventIndexingOutlook’.
PreventIndexingOutlook registry entry
Fig 33: PreventIndexingOutlook registry entry
  • Double-click on PreventIndexingOutlook. Enter 0 in Value data: field and click ‘OK’.
Changing Registry value to fix Outlook 2016 Search Problem
Fig 34: Changing Registry value
  • Reboot system.

Conclusion

You may face ‘Outlook search not working’ issue due to incomplete Outlook indexing or corrupt PST file. This blog helps you understand various Outlook search problems and details several troubleshooting methods to fix these problems.

For instance, if the cause of the Outlook search problem is a corrupt Outlook data file, you can repair the PST file by using Stellar Repair for Outlook or Inbox Repair Tool (SCANPST.EXE). These utilities can repair PST file and recover the entire mailbox data. After the damaged PST file is repaired, the ‘Search’ feature in Outlook should work properly.

Stellar Repair for Outlook is a recommended solution for fixing such issues caused by corrupt PST files as it provides several advantages over the SCANPST.EXE tool. The software supports encrypted Outlook data files, shows a preview of recovered mailbox data before saving, saves the recovered Outlook data file in multiple file formats, and more.

It works in almost all situations when the Inbox repair tool fails to resolve the issue. Check what the other MVPs and other experts have to say about this software: Click Here.

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