OBSERVATION – You can have the content and the links – but if your site falls short on even a single user satisfaction signal (even if it is picked up by the algorithm, and not a human reviewer) then your rankings for particular terms could collapse – OR – rankings can be held back – IF Google thinks your organisation, with its resources, or ‘reputation, should be delivering a better user experience to users.
QUOTE: “Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.” Sitemaps.org, 2020
QUOTE: “The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.” Amit Singhal, Google 2012
Determine who your main online competitors are. Research how they work, how they market and how big of a market share you believe they have. Sign up for e-newsletters, research their press releases and determine the strengths and weaknesses of each online competitor. You may even need to purchase something from them in order to understand how they complete their sales process.
However, that’s totally impractical for established sites with hundreds of pages, so you’ll need a tool to do it for you. For example, with SEMRush, you can type your domain into the search box, wait for the report to run, and see the top organic keywords you are ranking for. Or, use their keyword position tracking tool to track the exact keywords you’re trying to rank for.
Ask for a technical and search audit for your site to learn what they think needs to be done, why, and what the expected outcome should be. You'll probably have to pay for this. You will probably have to give them read-only access to your site on Search Console. (At this stage, don't grant them write access.) Your prospective SEO should be able to give you realistic estimates of improvement, and an estimate of the work involved. If they guarantee you that their changes will give you first place in search results, find someone else.