I'm about to embark on an SEO campaign for a site that is looking to achieve rankings for keywords combined with specific cities located in the US. Here's a thought to ponder: theoretically, if I submit to Google's local search and am accepted, this may positively affect my rankings for those keywords in the general SERPs. Does anyone have any thoughts on this matter?
By simply submitting to Google Places and ranking in onebox of Google would not help you in gaining good organic serp rankings. There might be instances where sites would have started to rank with Google Places listing but that must be purely because of the on-page changes (adding place names and addresses) and incoming links from local search directories that were done simultaneously with the G places listing.
Of course not - that wouldn't be my only step. Maybe I should be more clear - I will be implementing full on-site SEO; I want to know if Google local will CONTRIBUTE toward rankings for location-specific keywords, not be the only cause.
Thus far, I haven't seen any really strong correlation between getting into Google Maps and rankings within the regular keyword SERPs.
I believe that at most there could be an indirect correlation, because I believe that one of Googles 200+ ranking factors is clickthrough-by-keyword from their own search results pages. Under that theory, if you appear in the local 7-pack along with appearing in the regular keyword results, you're more likely to achieve more clickthroughs from your keyword phrases. The added clicks you might get from the 7pack could help to contribute towards ranking better in the regular results.
However, if clickthrough from SERPs is indeed a ranking factor (and I've argued the possibility with a number of other notable SEOs in the industry), then it appears to be a fairly weak factor which only has a marginal influence upon ranking.
It's also possible that if clickthroughs from SERPs are counted towards rankings that the clickthroughs from the 7pack might not be. It's very hard to differentiate clickthroughs from two different parts of the same SERP when attempting to study this possible behavior. So, it remains somewhat theoretical, while I still believe I see some indications that clickthroughs are incorporated into Google's overall ranking factors.
Endsum: Registration in Google Places might help your regular rankings, but if it does it's a very weak influence. Even so, it probably should be done as a part of your overall project because of the chance that Google could expand those local listings to take up nearly the entire first page of results (see my other post in this Local Search forum about Google's recent experiment in redesigning local SERPs).
I feel it's unlikely that direct clickthroughs from SERPs would be a significant algorithmic factor, because...
a) they could be easily manipulated b) they're a vague signal.
Matt Cutts has explicitly said many times that Toolbar data, eg, isn't a direct ranking factor, because it's "noisy".
All that said, it could be argued that, if you have a very good site, then anything that increases your traffic can over the long term indirectly help boost your rankings, because exposure to your content is likely to get your site mentioned elsewhere, help attract inbound links, etc. Again, these are indirect effects that might appear over a long period of exposure.
I'd note, btw, that Place Pages themselves may turn out to be a better driver of business (not necessarily even traffic) than your site itself. I've found myself increasingly relying on Place Pages when browsing for local information. They're so often more informative, better designed, and faster loading than the majority of local sites that I find I'm frequently skipping the sites and just grabbing the information I need.
Robert Chalton - That's actually an issue I've seen discussed on a couple of notable SEO blogs, including Michael Gray. I understand that Google's info may be more user-friendly, but as an SEO, it's my job to ensure that users get to my site and don't ignore it because Google's offering that info already. And fact: Google isn't discriminating between user-friendly and non user-friendly sites...they offer that info regardless.
theoretically, if I submit to Google's local search and am accepted, this may positively affect my rankings for those keywords in the general SERPs.
I used to work at a large directory that is a data provider to Google Maps, so I had the luxury to browse through the 7-packs and glance below to see any correlation in the rankings of the same business in the organic results.
My assessment is that there is none.
Then, OTOH, some of my own sites are not in the above directory but were hand-submitted. Some phrases rank in the onebox and some rank in the organic top results, but none of them are in both sets.
Therefore, your efforts to optimise for both locations are on the right track.