Exchange-traded funds offer a convenient way to invest in sectors or niches that interest you. If you'd like to add some dividend payers to your portfolio, the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index ETF (NYSEMKT:VYM) could save you a lot of trouble. Instead of trying to figure out which companies will perform best, you can use this ETF to invest in lots of them simultaneously. It recently yielded nearly 3%.

The basics
ETFs often sport lower expense ratios than their mutual fund cousins. The Vanguard ETF's expense ratio -- its annual fee -- is an ultra-low 0.13 %. (Vanguard is known for low fees.)

This ETF has performed  rather well, beating the S&P 500 over the past three and five years. As with most investments, of course, we can't expect outstanding performances in every quarter or year. Investors with conviction need to wait for their holdings to deliver.

With a low turnover rate of 16%, this fund isn't frantically and frequently rejiggering its holdings, as many funds do.

Why dividends?
Plenty of dividend payers  had strong performances over the past year. Tobacco powerhouses Altria (NYSE:MO) and Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) gained 18% and 23%, respectively, over the past year, and recently yielded 5.6% and 4%. They both face increasingly restrictive legislation and rising taxes in many locations. That's a bigger problem in the U.S., where the population of smokers is shrinking as well. Philip Morris International has it easier abroad, as many nations have far fewer restrictions, but the trend is toward more regulation, not less. In its last quarter, Philip Morris reported a 6% drop  in income because of shrinking volume despite higher prices. Altria has been boosting its earnings per share by buying back shares.

Other companies didn't do as well last year but could see their fortunes change in the coming years. Energy giant ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) advanced 6% and yields 4.7%. The company has been adjusting its focus, shedding some assets  and looking into opportunities such as fracking in China. It also spun off its less profitable refinery business, creating Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX). In its last quarter, the company reported  a drop in earnings, but they still came in ahead of estimates.

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) shed 14% and recently yielded a solid 4.3%. It recently lowered its expectations for the current quarter, citing factors such as weak PC sales, emerging markets exhibiting slowing growth, some customers cutting back on inventory, and various macroeconomic factors. Still, bulls see a lot to like in the company, such as its recent news of cutting energy consumption in its chips by 41%. It looks undervalued as well, with P/E, price-to-sales, and price-to-cash-flow ratios all well below five-year-average levels.

The big picture
A well-chosen ETF can grant you instant diversification across any industry or group of companies -- and make investing in and profiting from it that much easier.

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.