Retirees love dividend stocks because they produce cash flow, but yield isn't the only thing you have to consider. It's also important to understand the quality, risk, and growth potential of the stocks in your allocation. There are a few different valid approaches, depending on your investment needs and risk tolerance. No matter what you prioritize, there's a great dividend ETF for that niche.

1. Vanguard High Dividend Yield

The Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM -0.72%) is one of the most popular and straightforward funds in the high-yield business. The fund's management selects around 400 U.S.-based stocks that have the highest forecast dividends over the next year, and it's weighted by market cap. It also excludes REITs, which tend to be over-represented in dividend funds.

This Vanguard fund has a razor thin 0.06% expense ratio, and it pays a nice 2.71% distribution yield. The methodology doesn't scrutinize quality or stability in the same way, but the current income is impossible to ignore. Instead, it reduces risk through diversification. It's skewed more heavily to financials and consumer staples stocks than some of the other funds on this list.

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2. FlexShares Quality Dividend

The FlexShares Quality Dividend Index Fund (QDF -0.56%) is a good option for risk-averse retirees who prioritize stability. The fund's managers select stocks based on quality characteristics such as balance sheet strength, cash flow stability, efficiency, and dividend policy. The resulting allocation is around 130 stocks that deliver a higher dividend yield than the S&P 500, with low valuation ratios and less volatility compared to the market as a whole.

Reliability is the obvious strength here, but there's always a trade-off. The fund's 1.85% distribution yield is fairly low among dividend-focused ETFs, and it might fall a bit short of your retirement income needs. Its 0.37% expense ratio is fairly high. That means that shareholders would be getting closer to 1.5% in yield, net of fees -- and that income is subject to taxation.

3. WisdomTree U.S. Dividend Growth

The WisdomTree U.S. Dividend Growth Fund (DGRW -0.70%) takes the above quality dividend approach, but it focuses on growth potential instead of historical results. It also builds in some allocation caps to ensure that it's not overexposed to any single company or sector. This methodology results in a portfolio of 300 stocks that skews slightly more toward smaller companies.

This dividend growth fund has similar drawbacks with a fairly high 0.28% expense ratio and relatively low 1.78% distribution yield, but the potential for growth is appealing for younger retirees who need to balance income with growth. Growth is a great feature to hedge against inflation and protect your lifestyle in the later years of retirement. That focus on expanding dividends has helped the WisdomTree fund outperform the FlexShares ETF in total return since inception.

DGRW Total Return Level Chart

DGRW Total Return Level data by YCharts

4. iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend

The iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend ETF (DVY -0.45%) takes a different approach to achieve high yields. Its selection process includes assessments of dividend sustainability, with the intent of producing reliable and growing cash flows. Rather than being market-cap-weighted, the holdings are dividend-weighted, which gives preference to the strongest payors rather than biggest companies. The allocation also includes REITs.

That more complex selection process results in a high 0.39% expense ratio, but the fund management is currently justifying that with its 3.32% distribution yield. With around 100 stocks in the portfolio, it's less diversified and doesn't place the same focus on quality factors such as financial health. Still, this iShares fund is a great choice for retirees who are prioritizing current yield.

5. Global X SuperDividend

The Global X SuperDividend ETF (SDIV -0.35%) takes a more radical approach. It ranks companies from all over the world, including emerging markets, by dividend yield. It then excludes companies that don't meet certain liquidity and quality criteria, and invests in the top 100 stocks that pass its screens. These receive equal weight in its allocation. Holdings are reviewed quarterly to assess changes in dividend policy and outlook.

This in-depth approach requires a high 0.59% expense ratio, but it's also led to the remarkable 8.5% distribution yield. Equal weighting to international stocks and smaller companies is the driving force behind that. This allocation certainly comes with its own set of risks, and I wouldn't put all my eggs in this basket as a result. Still, it's a unique approach that can increase your yield when combined with more conservative funds.