How to make sure your Windows search includes your Outlook emails

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Recently I was dealing with a client of mine that owns a small business (actually it’s not all that small, as he does several million dollars in business each year).  Charles was getting frustrated with his computer because it wouldn’t do what he wanted it to do.  What made the situation even more maddening for him was the fact that all the other computers in the office would perform this function perfectly; his was the only one being stubborn about it.


Windows search

What he was having trouble with was the Windows Search function.  If you have never used this, you should check it out – it’s a pretty powerful tool.

When you click the Start button in Windows 7, you get a Start menu that pops up and there is a search field right at the bottom of the menu:

Windows search

When you type something in there and click on the magnifying glass at the right, the search function starts looking all over your computer for anything that matches.  And for most computers, it happens pretty quickly.

Here’s the problem that Charles was running into.  As the owner of his business, he gets a LOT of email each day from current and prospective clients.  When one of them calls up on the phone, he wants to be able to access their information very quickly (such as product quotes in MS Word format, emails that he has sent to and received from that person, etc.).

When Charles would do a search on another computer in the office, such as the computer used by one of his sales agent, he could type in a name and see all of those things come up – including all of the Outlook emails that were sent or received.  But when he did a search like that on his own computer, it might bring up a document such as a Word file or an Excel spreadsheet, but it never brought up any Outlook emails in the search results.  He even verified that there were emails in his Outlook that had that person’s name, so they should have been coming up.

Charles was ready to pull his hair out when he called me to see if I could figure out why the search wasn’t working.  As is the case with a lot of seemingly “unsolvable” computer problems, the solution was fairly simple.

The Windows Search function doesn’t automatically search the whole computer every time.  It only searches the areas of the computer that are included in its index.  In other words, you have to tell it what areas it should search.  You don’t have to do that for each individual search though – just configure it once and you’re set.

To tell Windows what areas of your computer you want it to include with each search, you just go to Control Panel.  In the top right corner, change the “View By” option to “Small Icons”.  Then, click on Indexing Options:

Windows indexing options

That will bring up a window that displays what parts of your computer are indexed – meaning they will be included when you do a Windows search.  As you can see on my computer, Outlook is already included in that index:

Windows indexing

But what if Outlook is not displayed in that list?  If that’s the case, and you want to include it in searches, then just click the “Modify” button and you will see this window:

Windows indexing

Just check the ones that you want to include in Windows searches.  As you can see, Outlook is listed there and can be checked or unchecked.

As you might guess, when I checked Charles’ computer for the indexing options, Outlook was not being included when he did a search.  I just checked the little box next to Outlook and saved the changes, and that solved the problem. But not immediately – when you add a new area to the Windows search, your computer has to index that new area before it can offer search results from there.  If you have a lot of data in Outlook (like thousands of emails), it might take a while to index all of that – in some cases, even several hours.

Keep in mind, including your email in your Windows searches only applies if you use an actual email program on your computer such as Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, etc.  If you use a web-based email service such as Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail and just go to the website to get your email, that means there is no email being stored on your computer anyway.  So Windows Search would not be able to search your email.  However, you should be able to search your past emails right on the website (I know Gmail’s search function is great).

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December 14th, 2013

Thank you, Scott, for your great information. I have an issue where search does not find the most recent file in a Word folder but the penultimate file, so I have to right-click to open folder location and there is that most recent file that I searched for. How to troubleshoot that? THAT SAID, that exact problem just 2 days ago resolved itself but for a few months I had the annoyance. What could it have been and what to do if it starts acting up again?

Also, I don’t use IE so it’s a good idea to UNCHECK it in the indexing locations I would think. Right?

Scott Johnson
December 14th, 2013

Regarding IE – yes, uncheck.
For the other issue, the only thing that comes to mind is that when you search for the file the computer just has not yet indexed it to include it in what is being searched (since it is the most recent file). This seems to be confirmed since the problem was resolved 2 days ago, since it could have been indexed during that 2-day period.