Dividends are an important component of total return. Just ask Motley Fool Income Investor analyst Mathew Emmert -- he loves them. All long-term investors should consider stocks with excellent dividend histories.

Which brings me to breakfast king Kellogg (NYSE:K). The company recently raised its quarterly dividend 10%, from $0.2525 to $0.2775. That's a decent increase, but the Dow Jones piece I caught also mentioned one other thing: This was the dividend's first change in value in many years.

I checked Kellogg's investor relations site for its dividend history. Sure enough, the $0.2525 quarterly payout hadn't budged since Q3 of fiscal 2000. (To be fair, the company's entire history shows plenty of dividend increases.)

Recent stagnation in dividend income is not what an individual investor wants to see. Although dividend quality or quantity shouldn't be the sole factor in considering a stock, it is useful as a shortcut for idea generation. A company that doesn't always increase the real cash it gives its stakeholders may be indicating questionable future returns.

That said, Kellogg presents an interesting case against that theory. The following five-year price chart shows that the cereal baron has been a sturdy investment lately. With the just-upped dividend and its solid price history, should Foolish investors give Kellogg another look?

Sure, there's nothing wrong with more research on a breakfast blue chip like Kellogg. However, as a long-term, dollar-cost-averaging investment, it's just not a company in which I can see a compelling reason to invest right now. I was less dividend-obsessed when I started investing seven years ago, but I've grown to appreciate payouts' importance to long-term holdings. For gradual, buy-and-hold investing, I'm more comfortable with a rising dividend than an increasing share price (although both would be lovely). For example, increasing dividends keep me holdingCoca-Cola (NYSE:KO).

That may sound a bit odd, but to me, it represents a better risk position: I get lower prices and increasing income. This, of course, assumes that I've done more research on the company to understand its free cash flow state and return on equity, among other key factors.

In Kellogg's case, there might be better income opportunities out there right now for dollar-cost averaging. Keep your options open. Take Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) for example. Mr. Softy's history is short but impressive, and its future payout potential cannot be ignored here. Kellogg may have bigger dividend increases from now on, but its recent history makes me less than enthusiastic about the stock.

Fill your bowl with further Foolishness:

Discuss dividends over a bowl of corn flakes on our Kellogg message board.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Coca-Cola. He did eat a pop tart this morning, but it wasn't from Kellogg. The Fool has a disclosure policy.