Investors love beating the stock market, but it's hard to do. There are no guarantees when it comes to stocks, but there are definitely some smart moves you can make to get the most out of your investment portfolio. That could mean unlocking more growth or increasing your dividend income.

Regardless of your goals, don't make any reckless changes to your allocation in the name of growth -- just make sure you aren't ignoring the types of stocks that have proven their greater upside potential over the long term.

Child strapped to rocket with friend about to launch it and dog sitting nearby.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Don't rely solely on market cap-weighted index funds

Index funds are great for most investors, but your investments can't outpace the market if they are designed to track the market. That's a simple and inescapable fact. To beat the major indexes, you'll have to build your own stock portfolio or use growth-focused ETFs (exchange-traded funds). Doing this almost certainly results in extra volatility, so make sure that you're able to take on additional risk before moving on to higher growth investments.

The Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF (NYSEMKT: RSP) is one of the smallest steps you can take toward higher growth potential. The ETF invests equal amounts in all 500 S&P stocks, removing the skew toward the absolute biggest companies in the S&P 500, which can give you more exposure to the stocks that will grow into tomorrow's leaders. Of course, this fund reduces your exposure to the FAANGs, Tesla, and Microsoft, but it's still held its own since launching.

RSP Total Return Level Chart

RSP Total Return Level data by YCharts

2. Buy growth stocks and ETFs

Growth ETFs, such as Vanguard Growth ETF, are another popular option. These funds exclude mature and more stable stocks, only investing in companies that are expanding rapidly. There's nothing too specialized about this methodology, but it should yield higher returns and more volatility.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

Another option are niche ETFs that track growth themes. Some of today's major growth themes include cloud computing, AI, cybersecurity, robotics, automation, frontier markets, and genomics. The iShares Exponential Technologies ETF is one fund that owns a large number of disruptive tech stocks. As these technologies impact daily life more and more, the companies in this ETF should reap the financial rewards.

Finally, you can also build a portfolio composed of a handful of high-conviction stocks with more upside than any market index. You'll lose the risk-dilution benefits of diversification, but you won't get weighed down by laggards from the index. Active stock-picking strategies have proven very difficult to manage, so be aware of the potential threats this strategy entails.

3. Add more small-cap stocks

Small-cap stocks can also supercharge your stock market returns. The Russell 2000 is an index of roughly 2000 mid-cap and small-cap stocks. When you hear about "the market", people are usually referring to the S&P 500, which only includes large caps. 

Small caps don't always outperform their larger counterparts, and they tend to get crushed especially hard during bear markets. Nonetheless, the evidence to date suggests that small caps yield better long-term returns than large-cap market indexes. This evidence is so compelling, in fact, that it's one of the pillars of factor investing. The developers of factor investing won a Nobel Prize for their work, so it's probably worth a look if you've never considered it before.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

As we saw with the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF, some future giants are currently in the Russell. Amazon's 1997 IPO valuation was under $500 million, well below its current $1.7 trillion market cap. Microsoft was similarly valued below $1 billion at the time of its IPO. Larger companies struggle to match the growth rates of the best small caps because the biggest enterprises already tend to have established brands and deep market penetration. Smaller competitors have more untapped opportunities, and historical stock market performance confirms this.

4. Pay attention to dividend yield

The above strategies are great for growth investors, but what if you're more focused on value stocks and income investments? That's certainly the case for many retirees who can't take on the extra volatility associated with growth stocks. The key to getting the most out of your stock portfolio might be responsibly maximizing dividend yield.

Dividends are a great way to get predictable returns from your stock portfolio, even if it's not a bull market. All else equal, a 3% dividend yield is doubling the performance of a portfolio with a 1.5% yield. That can make an enormous difference to lifestyle in retirement. There are a variety of factors that dictate dividend yield, but there are plenty of reliable, high-quality stocks with higher-than-average yields. Dividend stocks that have been bid up to high prices produce lower yields, and it can help your performance if you don't overload on these stocks. You can see this at work with the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF, which has outperformed the Vanguard Value ETF over the long term.

VYM Total Return Level Chart

VYM Total Return Level data by YCharts

This approach only works if you have a relatively defensive portfolio. You should also make sure you aren't investing in stocks that have extremely high yields because they have unsustainably high distributions. Instead, focus on Dividend Aristocrats and other reliable dividend stocks that have temporarily fallen out of favor with the market.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.