Many moons ago, Outlook search was a laborious process – you’d enter a word and Outlook would chunter through every message in turn to see if your desired text was contained within. In the days when you a few emails, that was fine, but when you have many thousands of messages, it’s not viable.
15 years ago, Microsoft bought a company that made an add-in called LookOut and since then, deep search capabilities have been added in a variety of ways, now provided through the Windows Search service.
A feature that was added into both Outlook is the “Top Results” section in search results – essentially providing what the search engine returns as the most relevant content, rather than necessarily the most recent.
How useful this is might depend on how and when you use Outlook search – if you’re looking for a way to return very specific results, it might be more of a distraction than a help (ie if you’re a natural piler, you might use Search as a normal way of retrieving stuff rather than an occasional tool for finding something in particular).
Should you find the Top Results section annoying and/or distracting, it can be easily disabled by going into Search Options within the Search tab on Outlook’s ribbon, and clear the “most relevant search results” option.
Do so, and normalcy returns.
Top Results also appears in Outlook Web App (outlook.office.com), in the consumer Outlook.com and in Windows Mail – and it doesn’t appear that you can disable it: much to some users’ chagrin. Turn to Uservoice or Feedback Hub if you feel similarly.
To get more out of Search in the desktop Outlook app, it’s worth understanding how to be more specific – even using just a few keywords will help you narrow the results. Search for from:bob, for example, and all results will be mails that originated from someone who had “bob” in their display name. Narrow the search even more by adding terms like sent:yesterday, about:pricing or messagesize:enormous as well.
You can use various tools in the Search bar to filter your results, too – it might even be quicker clicking the big paperclip than typing hasattachments:yes. To discover more search terms, click the + More option in the search bar and have a play.