Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
SEER is useful for comparing one model to another much in the same way that a car's calculate MPG is useful. It's not an accurate prediction of exactly how efficient the system is, but it can tell you which one is more efficient. Also, since SEER is based on a "cooling season", what region you live in will determine how long or short your cooling season is.
An air conditioning system's SEER is especially important if you live in a climate that changes temperature dramatically. The SEER is determined by the cooling output during the winter divided by its electric input during the winter. The higher the rating, the more efficient it will be. In January of 2006, the U.S. put standards in place for cooling units which are still in effect today. They must have a minimum SEER of 13. So, if you live in a home with a system installed before the new standards went into effect, consider having it replaced. SEER 13 units increase home efficiency by 30 percent.
Yes, ducts can look terribly dusty. However, that dust will not become aerosolized during the normal operation of your furnace. There is an easy way to test this. Rent a particle counter and test the air flowing out of your registers before and after cleaning. You will not see any improvement in the air quality or any reduction in the airborne dust level. Think of it this way. Duct cleaning companies tell you that you need to clean your ducts when you can see a layer of dust in your ducts. Yet that very layer of dust is proof that duct cleaning is unnecessary, because that dust proves that the air movement in your furnace is not fast enough to re-aerosolize the dust.
When central air conditioning service fails during a heat spell, you may have to wait days for an HVAC repair technician or an ac contractor to show up, and you'll probably pay at least several hundred for the repair. But if you're comfortable working around electricity and are willing to spend about $50 on parts, you can probably repair your air conditioning service yourself in about two hours and save about $225 on parts markup and labor.