Do you need dividend income? Do you want to keep things simple? As an investor, you can easily achieve both without sacrificing results. There are plenty of dividend-oriented exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that offer you all the yield that individual stocks can, without the stress of picking and watching those individual stocks.

Among the best of these names are the ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF (NOBL 0.24%), the Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity ETF (SCHD 0.10%), and the Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX -0.09%). They may all seem similar enough to one another that it doesn't matter which one, or ones, you pick. But there are some noteworthy differences that income investors should understand about these three ETFs.

Stack of post-its with the word "dividend" written on it, lying on desk with a roll of dollar bills

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1. The ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF consists of proven picks

Current yield: 2.32%

You've probably heard the term "Dividend Aristocrats" before, but you may not know what it means.

It's actually a surprisingly specific categorization. Dividend Aristocrats are defined as companies that are part of the S&P 500 that have increased their dividend every year for at least the past 25 years (there are a few other qualifications related to market cap and trading volume as well). S&P Dow Jones Indices manages the official list, changing it as needed. As of the most recent update in July, 66 names qualify for this accolade.

It's a simplistic approach to be sure, and it doesn't consider if the companies in question can actually afford to raise their dividend every single year. Between being big enough to qualify as an S&P 500 constituent, though, and being able to raise payouts for a minimum of 25 years in a row, it's tough to say these companies aren't of the highest caliber.

A handful of fund companies have plugged into the premise by creating an ETF of these dividend stocks. ProShares has one of the more liquid ones, though, in its ProShares S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats ETF. The fund has nearly $6 billion in assets, and sees a few hundred thousand shares trade every single day.

2. Juice your bottom line with the Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity ETF

Current yield: 3.54%

Whereas the ProShares Dividend Aristocrat fund gives you access to all qualifying dividend payers and therefore gives you the average Aristocrat dividend yield, the Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity ETF tries something a little more adventurous to offer you a better yield: It aims to mirror the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Dividend 100 Index. This isn't just a collection of the 100 biggest stocks found in the S&P 500, or even the 100 S&P 500 stocks with the highest yield. Rather, the Dow Jones U.S. Dividend 100 Index consists of 100 stocks with high yields and a 10-year track record of increased payouts and superior fundamental strength.

In other words, there's a little bit of an opportunity for hand-picking stocks in the index.

That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Most efforts to outperform the broad market generally fail to do so. A simple, broad-based index fund should be a foundational element for most investors' portfolios. This particular fund, however, has managed to outperform its benchmark since its inception nine years ago.

It's underperformed at times during that stretch (see further down on the prospectus), but with an above-average dividend yield that currently stands at 3.5% and below-average volatility, those slow patches are arguably worth it.

3. The Invesco Preferred ETF makes owning preferreds easy

Current yield: 5.46%

Finally, add the Invesco Preferred ETF to your list of exchange-traded funds that can be used as an income-oriented holding. As the name suggests, this ETF is a portfolio of preferred stocks.

Preferred stocks are an often-overlooked sliver of the market. They're described as a hybrid between bonds and stocks in that they're not a legal loan obligation in the same sense bonds are, but pay pre-established dividends much like interest payments. Technically, they're equity securities meant to provide loan-like capital to a company in exchange for a prioritized dividend payment. That is to say, preferred shareholders collect their dividend before common shareholders do.

In many cases, an issuer will retroactively "catch up" on missed dividend payments on preferred stocks, but won't do the same for owners of the company's common stock. These stocks also pay above-average yields, with this fund yielding an impressive 5.46%. The trade-off? They don't offer investors a chance for capital appreciation, so as great as they are, they're really only great when used solely as an income instrument.

The Invesco Preferred ETF also offers investors the one thing they need most from the preferred stock arena: a simple, convenient way to plug into them. While they may be potent income producers, it can be tough to find quotes and ticker symbols for these special stocks, and they're not always terribly liquid. An exchange-traded, frequently bought-and-sold package of them makes much more sense for most investors.