I see more and more blogs out there with guest bloggers. What is the rationale? Is it better to have a guest blogger, be a guest blogger, or have a reciprocal arrangement? Should you limit the number of guest bloggers or seek some minimum number?
As a site owner, soliciting guest posts allows you to run a website without paying writers. Sites such as Problogger and The Huffington Post have built huge content archives and massive ad revenue on the backs of writers who were willing to work for backlinks, exposure, and a byline alone.
The choice to accept guest posts is often a choice to dilute a consistent and recognisable voice in exchange for pageviews and free time. In my opinion, blogs become uninteresting once an author gives up their voice to accept content from anyone, and I often stop reading sites that transition from focussed insight penned by one person into a soap box for the masses.
If you're thinking about accepting guest posts, consider paying contributors and drafting a publishing policy designed to sustain quality content. This policy was introduced by Smashing Magazine shortly after they were criticised for too many list-style guest posts devoid of useful content, and I think it's done wonders for the site. Note this line:
As a blogger, submitting guest posts allows you to leverage someone else's audience to grow your own, spread a message, and build backlinks on a site with a higher pagerank than yours.
A typical guest blogging relationship puts the person accepting guest posts in the position of power; you need their audience more than they need you, so 'reciprocal arrangements' as you put it are rare. Those in a position to accept guest posts typically don't have an incentive to guest post themselves, although they may once have built their own audience that way.
I've guest posted on some high-traffic blogs, and my experience is that:
Guest Blogging is a way for new bloggers to get found and for established bloggers to include more varied content on their site (varied points of view and such). It also gives the writer a backlink to their site.
I think that how to balence having guest posts and guest posting yourself depends on you level of establishment of your blog in the community. If you are newer to blogging, look at finding guest posting opportunities, as you get established you can look into post swapping, and once you are really established, give back by letting newer bloggers guest post on your blog.
Guest blogging allows you to get a link from the body of the blog entry to your own site. It is popular because the in-body links are weighted more heavily than many others on the page.
I usually write them when I have time. And I always accept guest blogging opportunities because 1) It is good to make relationships with people in your space 2) Why not let another person get a link 3) It gives my site more content 4) It takes very little of my time