Outlook - top results in search appear out of order

When you search your email in Outlook, you might see three messages chosen as “Top results” by sophisticated AI & machine learning algorithms.

Well, it’s supposed to be smart algorithms. At the moment, the three “Top results” appear to be chosen by a roomful of monkeys throwing dung at the screen. I kind of want to throw it back at the Microsoft engineers working on searches these days.

If you’re getting “Top results” and you don’t like them either, you can disable them.

How to turn off Outlook “Top results”

Outlook - turn off Top results in the desktop program

In the desktop program, click on File / Options / Search. Uncheck the box “Show most relevant search results on top.”

Outlook - turn off Top results in Outlook.com and Office 365 webmail

In webmail (both Outlook.com and Office 365 webmail), click on Settings / View all Outlook settings / General / Search. Check the box “Don’t show top results.”

Hang on, go back. What are “Top results”?

Outlook top results - three messages typically out of order

Do a search in your email in Outlook.

If “Top results” is turned on, the first three results will be out of order. Take a look at the dates of the messages in the screenshot above. Three messages were chosen as “top results” – two from a couple of weeks ago, and one from February.

I don’t recall seeing “top results” until a couple of weeks ago, and I do searches in Outlook for email every day. Perhaps a default was changed in some recent update. If you’re not seeing “Top updates,” then don’t worry about it.

Outlook top results - Reddit complaints

Apparently, this isn’t new – there have been complaints about “Top results” for two years. In November 2019, Microsoft posted a description of upcoming changes to searches in Outlook that perhaps led to the unwelcome appearance of “Top results” recently. Among other things, Microsoft threatened promised to move the Search bar to the top of the Outlook window instead of above the message list, and issued this warning:

“Once you enter the full keyword search query, Outlook curates the results based on the most relevant information in your mailbox and puts those on top of the returned results followed by results in chronological order (Today, Yesterday etc).”

It’s a continuation of Microsoft’s plan to muck up searches in Windows. It starts with top search results “based on the most relevant information in your mailbox,” but that’s not all. The plan is to make searches even more difficult; instead of only searching email, search results will also include “calendar events, files, and commands.”

Want to search for the word “sign” in your emails? Right now, you would search for “sign,” and Outlook would show you messages with “sign” in them. But don’t worry, Microsoft has a plan to make everything appear in one place, no matter how little you want that.

” Similar to other Microsoft Search experiences in Office 365, Outlook for Windows commands or Actions will be also be included in your Search suggestions.  For example if you type “sign” in the Search box you’ll start to see Actions in the Search suggestions that align with Outlook commands that include “sign” such as signature and design.  No need to use “Tell me what you want to do” to find the right command when the new Search box includes the answers in one place.

Microsoft also ominously warns says that “Top results” are also coming to the Outlook mobile apps on iOS and Android.

Outlook top results forum feedback

Maybe I’m just cranky in my old age, or maybe enterprise workers get some unique value out of Microsoft’s changes to searches. We had several years where searches in Windows and Outlook were working pretty well, and I don’t know that I felt the need for searches to get smarter by including irrelevant stuff and listing it out of order.

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