Outlook contacts often share data. You might have several contacts that share the same company name or the same address. Updating each contact, one-by-one, would be tedious even if you just had a few. Imagine updating hundreds!

The good news is, most of the time, you can update a group of contacts when they share a field value, such as the company name or address. First, you create a group based on the shared field, and update just one of the grouped records, which creates a new group. Then, you drag the old group into the new group and Outlook automatically updates all of the contacts in the old group, accordingly.

Create a group

Now, let’s work with a simple example. Specifically, let’s change the company name, TechRepublic to TechRepublic.com. First, we need to group contacts by the Company field, as follows:

  1. In the Contacts window, create a new view. To do so, click the View tab.  From the Change View dropdown in the Current View group, choose Manage Views. In the resulting dialog, click New. In Outlook 2007, choose Current View from the View menu, and then choose Define Views. Or, choose the List view – but be careful because this won’t work in all cases. If it does, skip to step 6.
  2. Enter a new name for the view, such as CompanyNameView. Make sure Table is the type of view (the default, so you shouldn’t have to change that setting), and click OK.
  3. In the Advanced View Settings dialog box, click Group By.
  4. In the Group By dialog, select the field you want to group by, and click OK. In this case, that’s Company – we’re updating the company name value.
  5. Click OK again.
  6. With the new view, CompanyNameView, selected, click Apply View. All of your contacts are now grouped by the Company field. If you’re working in List view (step 1), double-click the Company header cell to sort your contacts. If that field isn’t visible in your List view, display it by right-clicking the header title and dragging Company from the Chooser to the title bar.

Once you have your contacts grouped, you’re ready to change the entry in the grouped field, as follows:

  1. First, collapse all the groups. It’s easier to work with and you need the group headers. Choose Collapse All Groups from the Expand/Collapse option in the Arrangement group. In Outlook 2007, use the View menu.
  2. Next, find your group’s header and expand just that one group by clicking the arrow to the left.
  3. Edit the company name in the first contact in your group. When you do, Outlook will move this one contact to a new group. Now, you have two groups – the old one with all the company values you want to update and one with the new company name.
  4. Drag and drop the old group’s header onto the new group’s header. As you do, Outlook will let you know that it’s changing the Company field entries to TechRepublic.com.

When you’re done, you have a new group header that displays TechRepublic.com and the TechRepublic group is gone. If you don’t  plan to use this view again, you can delete it. Creating a new view isn’t always necessary, as I mentioned, but List view has its own limitations – it can’t hurt to try it and then create a custom view if necessary.

A few things to watch for

You can change only the grouped field value, and while that makes sense, it also limits you. You won’t always be able to group on the values. For instance, you can group on the email address field, but that won’t help you update just the domain portion because Outlook uses the entire email address when grouping. In addition, it won’t catch contacts where the field entry is almost, but not exactly the same. For instance, in this example, it won’t include Tech Republic (with a space) or TechRepub (abbreviated). Lastly, if you’re updating thousands of contacts, be prepared to set this task into motion and go to lunch, because it might take a while.