I believe that the average SEO and publisher are unable to understand why a site is ranking. The average SEO tends to seize on the most obvious clue, convinced that the most visible clue is the explanation. This results in a false diagnosis.
This may explain Mueller’s experience. People who don’t know how to identify why a site is ranking are self-selecting to show John their “proof” that is really just a red herring.
People with more experience understand that paid links can work to help a site rank better. The problem that I see is that the quality of links that are for sale is generally of a poor quality.
So if a site receives a benefit, what can happen is that the benefit is short lived. The links eventually stop helping. Sometimes there is no benefit at all.
I asked someone I know who is successful in highly competitive niches about this and this is what they said:
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