The following video is part of our "Motley Fool Conversations" series, in which analyst John Reeves and advisor David Meier discuss topics around the investing world.

High dividend yields have a powerful allure. However, John and David think they know the real secret to successful dividend investing. The key is to look for companies with modest yields that will grow their dividends for years and years. It's total returns that really matter. Look at Coach. The fashion designer recently started paying a dividend, currently yielding 2.2%. But with all the cash the company generates, that dividend is going to grow for years.

Investors should look for companies just starting to pay a dividend. But they should also look for entrenched companies like Teva Pharmaceutical and Target that have paid dividends for years and will continue to do so. High-yield stocks like Sandridge Mississippian Trust I require special knowledge. And France Telecom may come up on high-yield screens still, but it recently cut its dividend because of cash flow concerns. It's better to look for moderate yields from a company with the power to grow its dividends.

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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.