Dividends convey important information regarding the progress of a business and management's confidence in the company's future. That's why it's important to monitor dividend announcements and their meaning for investors. Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), General Mills (NYSE:GIS), Williams-Sonoma (NYSE:WSM), Pebblebrook Hotel Trust (NYSE:PEB) and Douglas Dynamics (NYSE:PLOW) are among the notable companies that raised dividends last week.

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Source: Colgate-Palmolive.

Colgate-Palmolive is an undisputed leader in oral care thanks to its leading market share in products like toothpaste and toothbrushes. The company does business in more than 220 countries, which provides geographical diversification, and it also benefits from tremendous scale advantages and widely recognized brands in a defensive industry.

This fundamental strength has allowed Colgate-Palmolive to build an extraordinarily long track record of recurrent dividend payments. The company has paid uninterrupted dividends since 1895, and it has raised those distributions for 51 years in a row.

Colgate-Palmolive announced on Thursday a 6% dividend increase, raising the quarterly payment from $0.34 to $0.36 per share, which means a dividend yield around 2.3% at current prices. 

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Source: General Mills.

General Mills
General Mills owns the first or second market position in several packaged food categories around the world, thanks to the popularity of brands like Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Nature Valley, Old El Paso, and Haagen-Dazs, among many others.

The company will be reporting earnings on Wednesday, but management announced on Friday that earnings will be below Wall-Street estimates because of stagnant volume in the U.S. and currency headwinds in emerging markets. This has been a recurrent problem among big consumer companies in recent months, so it doesn't look like a big reason for concern for investors in General Mils.

On a brighter note, the company raised dividends by 8% to $0.41, which means a mouthwatering dividend yield of 3.3%. The company and its predecessor have paid uninterrupted dividends for 115 consecutive years, so General Mills has proved the strength to successfully go through challenging conditions while generating reliable cash flows for investors over time.

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Source: Williams-Sonoma

Williams-Sonoma doesn't have the same kind of exceptionally long dividend trajectory as Colgate-Palmolive or General Mills, but the company is much smaller, which means superior potential for growth over time.

Besides, management is doing a great job when it comes to adapting to changing industry dynamics in the retail business and building a successful online business, so the company is reporting outstanding financial performance in a sector that's been remarkably challenging for most competitors lately.

In addition to better-than-expected earnings fueled by a big increase of 10.4% in comparable brand revenues, Williams-Sonoma announced a 6% dividend increase on Friday. The dividend yield is now around 2%, and the dividend has a lot of room for growth, considering that the payout ratio is comfortably low, in the area of 40% of earnings. 

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Source: Pebblebrook Hotel Trust.

Pebblebrook Hotel Trust
Pebblebrook Hotel Trust is a real estate investment trust specialized in upscale hotel properties. The company was organized in 2009 to capitalize the opportunity to invest in undervalued assets, and it has accumulated a portfolio of 29 hotels, 23 of them wholly owned and the remaining 16 via joint venture, for a total of 6,416 guest rooms in 12 major urban markets.

The company announced on Friday a big dividend increase of 44% to $0.23 per share, which brings the dividend yield to roughly 2.7% at current prices. Dividends have almost doubled from $0.12 per share in 2010, and management seems determined to continue expanding the company's portfolio and generating growing dividends for shareholders in the future.

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Source: Douglas Dynamics.

Douglas Dynamics
Douglas Dynamics is an industry leader in the design, manufacture, and sale of snow and ice control equipment for light trucks. The company's products include snowplows, sand and salt spreaders, and a wide variety of related parts and accessories. The company owns leading brands in the industry like Fisher, Western, and Blizzard, which is a valuable advantage in a business in which reliability is a key competitive factor.

The unusually cold winter in many parts of the country has been a big positive factor for Douglas Dynamics lately. The company reported an explosive sales increase of 159% during the last quarter of 2013, and management decided to raise dividends by 2.3% to 0.2175.

The dividend increase doesn't look like much in comparison with the huge increase the company has seen in sales. However, investors need to consider that Douglas Dynamics operates in a cyclical and volatile industry that depends heavily on weather conditions, so management is doing the right thing by being cautious when it comes to dividend growth.

Besides, the dividend yield is above 5%, so investors in Douglas Dynamics are clearly being well rewarded with cash distributions.

Bottom line
Cash is king, and investing in companies with sustained dividend growth is one of the best strategies for superior returns over time. Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Williams-Sonoma, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, and Douglas Dynamics are distributing growing dividends for shareholders, and that´s a key variable to consider when making investment decisions.

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Andrés Cardenal has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Douglas Dynamics, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, and Williams-Sonoma. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.